Thirty years from now, our children and grandchildren will wake up before dawn to tend to their farms. They’ll work until sundown planting and harvesting crops, raising livestock, milking cows, and hauling produce. Yet while some things about farming just don’t change, the fact of the matter is that Mother Nature, our most important business partner, is changing dramatically. This generation must adapt to and help mitigate climatic changes. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the single greatest threat to family farm agriculture, to our country, and to humanity.
The effects of climate change are already wreaking havoc on farms from Florida to Oklahoma to California. Extreme heat. Severe and long-lasting drought. Heavy rains. Massive flooding. Devastating wildfires. You see it on the news. You see it on your farm. These aren’t “alarmist” talking points; these are real problems that are ruining crops, livestock, and livelihoods of American farmers and ranchers. This year, the federal government will provide billions of dollars to farmers to cover losses due to extreme weather events. Without significant action, these disasters will continue to become more frequent and more severe.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by the Trump Administration last month, projects our average annual temperature to increase by 2.6 to 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. The administration states that if CO2 emissions are rapidly reduced, we can keep this warming to a minimum. If these emissions continue to rise, however, warming may reach over 8 degrees Fahrenheit, causing widespread shifts to agricultural production and all but halting productivity in some regions. In fact, while innovation in American agriculture has driven productivity increases despite new challenges, the climate assessment states that technology will soon begin to fall short. Inaction on climate change will lead to an agricultural productivity decline of 25 percent for Midwest farmers by 2050.
As farmers, when we see a problem, we try to fix it; we don’t just sit back and wait for it to get worse. But there is an awful misconception driving the day for many in the farming community. Too many assume there is no fix to this problem – that there’s nothing we can do to reverse the tide of climate change. This is wrong, it is defeatist, and it is out of step with the international scientific, business and policymaking communities.
Farmers bear the brunt of climate change, but we can be our own heroes. Each one of us sits on a formidable carbon sink. And the science is there – we know practices like cover cropping, crop rotations and precision farming techniques can sequester carbon in the soil. Agricultural soils have the potential to absorb 3 to 8 billion metric tons of CO2 yearly for the next 20 to 30 years. That’s the equivalent of roughly 30 to 80 percent of annual global CO2 emissions. It’s that type of CO2 emissions offset that farmers, along with the help of public and private incentives, should be working to provide.
For years, National Farmers Union has been a leader in advancing policies that promote climate resilience in agriculture. Our members believe that American family farmers and ranchers should lead the world when it comes to sequestering carbon in our soils. We support increasing research funding for soil health and climate-smart production methods, expanding renewable energy systems, promoting voluntary conservation practices, and development of sustainable crop systems for biofuel production. And specific to a direct contribution to the climate crisis, we believe American farm policy should incentivize production methods that sequester carbon.
The time for debating climate change has long since passed. We must now turn our attention to how much we want to do about it. Businesses, cities, and almost every single country are working together to curb emissions and reduce the devastating effects of climate change. American farmers and ranchers must come together and join the effort on a wider scale. Our livelihoods and the livelihoods of our children depend on it.
Roger Johnson is president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), a grassroots organization that represents nearly 200,000 family farmers, ranchers, fisherman and rural communities across the Unites States. Johnson is a third generation farmer from Turtle Lake, North Dakota, and previously served as North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner.