Faith, agriculture, and political leaders say climate discussion begins at local level


With the help of resources available through agencies, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Seth Watkins has learned good things can happen when one starts to reduce their carbon footprint.

Practices, such as no-till, cover crops, and rotational grazing not only keep the land sustainable for future generations, Seth said, but also help lower costs.

As more farmers and landowners turn to regenerative practices, Seth, who farms in Clarinda, Iowa, hopes Congress is taking note, especially as they begin to discuss the next farm bill. The current farm bill, he said, doesn’t focus enough on the issue of climate change.

“It doesn’t always incentivize us to do the right thing and we are seeing the externalities from it,” he said. “Our farm bill needs to incentivize the regeneration of the natural resources we depend upon.”

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, who represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, echoed Seth’s comments as the two joined other community leaders during the Iowa Climate Solutions virtual forum hosted by the Center for Rural Affairs and Iowa Interfaith Power and Light recently.

The representative said Iowa has so many great stewards of the environment and, as the beginning stages of discussion of the next farm bill begin, having people representing row-crop states who understand we need to conserve our soil and water is important.

“We have to make sure we’ve got the opportunity in 25 years that my grandpa had when I was growing up with the wonderful nutrients in his soil that, in many cases, have been depleted across our state,” Axne said.

Iowa has farmers who want to grow different crops, Axne added, but, oftentimes they are limited because of the way the government and subsidies are structured, which forces them into a position where they have to conform to be successful for their families.

She said we are at a point in this country where we have to take things to the next level and determine how we can transition to new products and markets by putting new structures in place.

“There is so much opportunity,” Axne said, adding policymakers will need to address them in a way that benefits farmers, the rural economy, and does better by the entire agricultural industry than what we aren’t seeing now.

In her role as executive director at The Golden Hills Resource Conservation & Development Inc., Michelle Franks has worked on a number of initiatives in western Iowa to develop alternative crops, such as grapes. While much of her time lately has been spent responding to other issues surrounding natural disasters, such as flooding, she hopes to move the discussion forward.

“I’d like to get to the point where there are resources that can help farmers, like Seth, be able to adapt and do practices that are more regenerative in nature, rather than responding to crisis changes,” she said. “Long term, it’s going to help our landowners—our stewards of our lands— be able to withstand these severe weather events we have seen.”

As the agriculture industry addresses issues surrounding climate change, the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Thompson believes further education is needed across the board. As a person of faith, Jacqueline said she has been called to be a steward of resources, a passion she shares with her church members and others in the community. 

“We need to educate our electorate on what this all means,” she said. “We say climate change, we say environmental practices, we say we are going to be good stewards of the land. A lot of our folks don’t know what that means and how they can contribute to that.”

Axne believes Iowans can play a role as the issue of climate change policy is developed.

“I think we are poised to be at a place here in Iowa to be at the forefront of opportunity but it is going to take all of us, from a local to federal level, to make sure everybody understands how relevant our voices are,” she said.