Climate Disruption and Farming

Following are prepared remarks for my talk at the Iowa United Nations Association event, “Speaking of… The Environment!” held at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Thank you Iowa United Nations Association for organizing this event, and to Prairie Lights Bookstore for hosting us tonight.

Climate change is real. It’s happening now. Just ask a farmer. There are few people as close to the intersection between the natural world and human activities as they are. Any conversation I have had with a farmer, included discussion of long term changes in our climate, and how they dealt with them.

Recently, I had a conversation with farmers about this year’s crazy weather: a wet spring that delayed planting, followed by drought conditions in July through September. It was bad, but the worse news was that we can expect more of the same during the next several years.

What does this mean? For one thing, this year’s soybean crop is in and reports from the field are that pods formed on the plants, but didn’t fill out with beans because of the lack of rain. What could have been a great year for soybeans turned into an average one because of drought conditions related to our changing climate.

According to a group of Iowa climate scientists and academicians, the consequences of climate change on farmers are easy to understand. “As Iowa farmers continue to adjust to more intense rain events, they must also manage the negative effects of hot and dry weather. The increase in hot nights that accompanies hot, dry periods reduces dairy and egg production, weight gain of meat animals, and conception rates in breeding stock. Warmer winters and earlier springs allow disease-causing agents and parasites to proliferate, and these then require greater use of agricultural pesticides.” In addition, changes in our hydrological cycle cause increased soil and water runoff, and complications with manure applications. There is also pressure on crop yields.

Everything I mentioned puts pressure on our food system. We can expect more of the same going forward.

There is overwhelming evidence that climate change is anthropogenic, or caused by humans, yet most farmers don’t accept it, even as they deal with its effects.

Scientists don’t know where the tipping point lies, but the effects of climate change on farm operations are clear, and getting worse. Yet, even as we adapt, and farmers do adapt, we can do something about the causes of global warming and climate change without changing our way of life or hurting our economy.

We could start by dealing with the fact that globally, each day we dump 90 million tons of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere as if it were an open sewer. That has to change.

I’m not alone when I say we can do something about the causes of global warming and climate change to protect our food system before it’s too late. We should. Thank you.

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