USDA's Harden says farmers, policy makers must collaborate on climate change

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, May 6, 2015 - Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden used a State Department forum Wednesday to encourage greater collaboration between farmers and policy makers as they try to deal with climate change.

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“This is a problem, an issue, a challenge - whatever you want to call it - that we've just got to work together on,” Harden said in her keynote address at State Department headquarters in Washington. Policy makers shouldn't be “pointing fingers” at farmers, she said, after putting away her prepared speech. Instead, the conversation should start with a question: “How can we work with you to adapt to these (weather) challenges?”

In order to make agriculture in the U.S. climate smart, “our programs and our policies (need to) make sense outside of this town, outside of boardrooms,” Harden told the audience. “And instead (make sense), around coffee tables, in offices located in a barn or a shed - or sometimes not even that formal - around the back of a pickup truck.”

“Extreme weather” shouldn't be framed as a topic for debate, she continued, but rather as a practical business matter that demands attention.

“I have known farmers and ranchers to be very innovative, very creative and very open-minded when you can show them the value of what we are talking about,” she assured attendees. “We don't have to tell them or convince them that there are issues to be addressed.”

Secretary of State John Kerry raised the profile of climate change at his agency in March when he likened the threats posed by global warming to terrorism, infectious disease, and poverty. To date, the Obama administration has focused most of its climate change mitigation and adaption efforts within the energy sector, supporting nascent biotechnology and renewable energy firms and more strictly regulating fossil fuel production.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture is responsible for 14 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change. Combined with the world's 17 percent of emissions sourced from deforestation - which is at least 80 percent attributable to land conversion for agricultural uses - the impact of agriculture globally is greater than the energy sector, which is responsible for 26 percent of the world's carbon footprint.

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