I've tried not to get too hawkish with climate change talk. I know that a majority of my readers, who April sunshine be darned still have their snow shovels at the ready by the front step, would likely vote for global warming.
But ag columnist Alan Guebert says farmers and ranchers should get serious about climate change, for the simple reason that it's going to make it hard to farm and ranch. Guebert pulls grim prognostications from the latest U.N. report on climate change. More drought, declining water supply and water quality, lower crop yields... but we know that since the U.N. says those things, it's just a plot to take over our land and put it under the control of foreign dictators (kind of like Keystone XL... oh, wait...).
Guebert finds Iowa State University agronomy professor Eugene Takle offering similar, science-based warnings:
Currently, Takle and ISU colleague Jerry Hatfield, director of the National Lab for Agriculture and Environment, are lead authors of the ag chapter of the mandated 2014 National Climate Assessment. The report, due later this month, "will paint a sobering picture of climate change globally and its impacts on the U.S.," Takle related when interviewed last fall for a campus publication.
"One of the key messages of the report," Takle said "is that the incidence of weather extremes will continue and will have increasingly negative effects on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded."
At least someone at a respected American agricultural institution believes climate change will be the 21st century farm and ranch game changer. Too bad it's not an actual farm or ranch group [Alan Guebert, "Climate Change an Ag Game-Changer," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.04.09].
Part of the policy problem here is that even if South Dakota's ag producers pay attention to climate change, they can't single-handedly stave it off. They can reduce their reliance on industrial pesticides and fertilizer. They can turn to local markets to reduce their reliance on long-distance transport. But much of what would need to be done to stave off climate change caused by human activity won't happen in their fields. It will happen in the voting booth, where they have to stop voting for candidates like Kristi Noem and John Thune who tell them the Environmental Protection Agency is their enemy, and who promote short-term corporate profit (which bears some relationship to political contributions) over long-term stewardship.
Maybe it's just easier to believe that one's own actions, in the field and at the ballot box, don't really cause anyone else harm. Maybe it's just easier to believe that we either don't have to change or that any changes we make won't do any good anyway.
But will farmers just let the storms and droughts come, let more cattle and corn be lost, let more land wash and blow away, without even having a conversation about what's changing the climate and looking for policies that might stanch that change and preserve their livelihoods?
Whether or not we want to talk about it, climate change will bring changes to agriculture. The difference between thriving and perishing lies in changing our talk and our actions in response.