By Rob Larew, NFU President
Today, National Farmers Union is unveiling to our members a new climate change resource center as part of our effort to support sound federal policy and the efforts of U.S. family farmers and ranchers in responding to the effects of global warming. Through this new website, we hope to share the story of farmers and ranchers who are leading the charge against climate change, documenting their challenges and successes, and highlighting and opportunities for advocacy and partnership with the government to further those efforts.
To be sure, this is a challenging time for agriculture. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed key weaknesses in our food supply chain and destroyed many of the markets that farmers and ranchers rely on. NFU’s immediate priority is to get support to farmers and ranchers and to keep rural communities and their economies going until the country can reopen. However, these same weaknesses could be further exacerbated in the long term by the effects of climate change. It is clear that the United States must take economy-wide action to curb our contribution to global warming and mitigate the effects of climate change. And U.S. farmers and ranchers are positioned to be a key part of the solution.
Today is also the fiftieth anniversary of the first Earth Day, which occurred on April 22, 1970. The 1960s was also a time of environmental disasters in the United States. Rivers were burning, smog throttled cities, sewage and industrial waste fouled major water ways and harmed cropland, and untold numbers died each year due to pollution.
Amid these catastrophes, the nation came together in action. Across the country, Americans gathered on Earth Day to demand change. As a result of this and other efforts, the 1970s saw the enactment of laws that cleaned the air and waterways, tackled waste disposal, and curbed polluters. These laws were bipartisan and shepherded by presidents and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Now, fifty years later, we are at another watershed moment for the future of our country and the environment, and once again inaction is not an option. This time, America’s family farmers and ranchers, and rural communities are bearing the brunt of these greater environmental problems. Floods, droughts, and wildfires are more common and destructive than ever before. Storms are more frequent and severe. Weather patterns are quickly shifting, leaving crops, livestock, the food supply chain, and communities vulnerable and unprepared for the new normal.
Farmers Union members have long recognized the existence of climate change. They have seen its side effects play out in real time on their land, and they have championed policies that provide the support and tools agriculture needs to react.
Despite the challenges posed by climate change, farmers and ranchers are actively working to adapt. Some have changed their land management practices to focus on building soil health, reducing their reliance on inputs and making their land more resilient—moves that can save money and ensure productive fields for future generations. Others are working to increase their energy efficiency, produce renewable energy on their farms, and grow biofuels feedstocks. And still others are working to diversify their operations and develop sustainable markets that compensate farmers for the value of environmental services they provide as they produce the nation’s food, fuel, and fiber. All this work helps to sequester carbon, adapt the land to weather extremes, and ensure America’s clean energy future. The more these efforts can spread with the help of government support and market forces, the stronger rural America will be. As the global coronavirus pandemic puts a spotlight on the weaknesses in our food supply, it is clear that we must work together to ensure long-term, sustainable food security in this country—addressing the risks posed by climate change will be central to this goal.
The NFU climate change resource center will be a key tool in moving this vital conversation between lawmakers and farmers and ranchers. The site will provide resources for farmers and ranchers to advocate to their lawmakers for a national climate policy that will strengthen the food and fuel supply and help all of America prosper.
Fifty years from now, we hope that 2020 will be remembered as a watershed moment where Americans once again came together to develop and implement solutions to the biggest problems of our time. Certainly, America’s family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities are ready.
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