Downturns in farming are normal and almost expected. The worst in recent history was the farm credit crisis in the s, with low commodity prices and sky-high interest rates.
At the height of that crisis , in , there were almost 6, farmers who filed for bankruptcy. What is different this time is farmers have seen declining commodity prices for years. Extreme weather conditions, like the record flooding seen in the Midwest , have added another layer of uncertainty.
The bottom line, from Steven Deller, a professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison : "Farmers are structured to ride these waves out, but when the waves are this long they can't ride that out. The department doles out billions of dollars in farm subsidies, underwrites insurance on millions of acres of crops, researches and helps control diseases that threaten plants and animals and buys up massive quantities of food when farmers produce too much — a surplus that supplies food banks and schools nationwide.
But when it comes to climate change, there has been a curious silence hanging over the department, even as its own economists have warned that warming temperatures will make helping the agriculture sector more expensive in the future.
USDA spokespeople, who have long denied having any policy that dissuades discussion of climate change, declined all interview requests for this story and would not allow any officials who work on climate adaptation to discuss their work with POLITICO. Ferd Hoefner, a senior adviser to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said his group and others have for years pressed USDA officials to use its existing conservation incentives to help adapt to and combat climate change, but the idea has not gotten traction within the department.
The department also failed to publicly release a sweeping, interagency plan for studying and responding to climate change. It rained yesterday. The climate does change in short increments and in long increments. Meanwhile, the National Climate Assessment has repeatedly warned that human-driven global warming will likely have dire consequences for American agriculture and make things particularly volatile in the Midwest, which has long been one of the most productive breadbaskets in the world.
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For decades, USDA avoided tackling climate change head on, even as the department invested in research that raised warnings for farmers and ranchers and the food system as a whole. The topic has historically been too politically toxic in the traditionally conservative agriculture sector, which fears more regulation while also being extremely reliant on government programs.
The conversation began to shift noticeably during the Obama administration.
Senior government officials became increasingly vocal about climate science and the urgent need for farmers and ranchers to not only better withstand periods of extreme rain or prolonged drought, but position their industry to be a major part of the solution. Environmentalists and a growing portion of the industry think American agriculture could be shifted from a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions to instead be a massive carbon sink, or a giant sponge pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into millions of acres of soil — something that could actually help combat climate change.
There are several relatively simple changes farmers could make to become more resilient, which also have the benefit of drawing down carbon.
Producers, for example, can reduce or eliminate tillage, which not only prevents soil carbon from being released into the atmosphere, but also helps improve how soil holds up to too much or too little moisture. But changing how farmers farm is an enormous undertaking. It requires the right mix of economic incentives, education and resources for farmers and ranchers to experiment with new practices and still make a living.
The hubs were set to be locally-tailored, serving seven specific regions that each contained several states, with the exception of the Caribbean Climate Hub, whose mission was primarily to help Puerto Rico and the U. Virgin Islands. The attempt to use existing facilities and draw on existing resources was deliberate.
The Obama Administration faced a Republican-controlled Congress, which could have easily targeted a line item focused on climate change. Thus, there was never any real funding set aside for the hubs. Their staffing level — between two and five staff per hub, including a fellow on temporary assignment — was miniscule for a department that boasted nearly , employees. The initiative was set up as an interagency collaboration, which meant that several disparate arms of the department were expected to contribute staff and resources. The set-up, while politically savvy, began to backfire almost immediately as some officials viewed the hubs as essentially an unfunded mandate.
The degree to which agencies within USDA were enthusiastic about supporting the effort varied greatly, but because it was a high priority for Vilsack the project rolled ahead. The hubs had barely gotten up and running by the time the election hit. When Donald Trump won — after having dismissed climate change as a Chinese hoax during the campaign — several officials thought the hubs would almost certainly be on the chopping block.
But notice never came. Weeks into the transition, a new concern emerged for staff working on climate adaptation and mitigation within USDA: What are we allowed to say?
In February , Bianca Moebius-Clune, a career official directing soil health at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the agency charged with overseeing conservation and other land management programs, sent an email to senior staff recommending that they consider clamping down on climate-related terms, according to a trove of internal emails revealed by The Guardian — an apparent attempt to preempt any political friction on the subject.
Another exchange showed a different senior official appearing to suggest that a survey of USDA employee attitudes on climate change, a climate hubs project, should be reframed to downplay the issue. One of the researchers on the project pushed back and the official backed down. Gillian O'Sullivan : We need clarity on environment regulations, not Grain Prices Tillage Farm Profiles.
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Picture: Chris Hill. Almost a Veterinarian by: Garry Leeson from issue: Follow Us. You will not be in agriculture for the money, but if you are an achiever of results it can be a great job when you can turn a farm around in two years or increase your yield by 30pc. Investors are worried about a possible recession for the economy as a whole, but the farm recession is already here, with falling incomes, rising delinquency rates and surging bankruptcies. By my third year we had the average wheat yield up to 10 tonnes per hectare, which in was not a bad yield. The Farm Bureau and Morning Consult did a survey of rural adults and farmers to understand multiple aspects of mental health for this population.
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