In 2012, critically hot, dry weather hit the Midwest and Great Plains, while the East Coast endured floods, Hurricane Sandy and record New England snowfall. Climatologists described these specific weather events, for the first time, as part of a changing climate attributed to global warming.
I watched dry conditions unfold in Northeast Nebraska last year. The warm and dry winter and spring, resulted in no soil moisture at planting time. The hot and dry summer burned up most dry-land corn. High night-time temperatures damaged crops and killed feedlot cattle unable to cool off.
Irrigation barely kept up with crop demands. Heavy pumping caused groundwater levels to drop, leaving some livestock wells and rural households without water. Obviously, rural Americans will have to deal with global warming and the climate changes that are already impacting us.
Sadly, farm subsidies that discourage diversity and innovation will make climate change impacts worse. Reduced conservation incentives will make weather extremes more likely to cause both immediate and long-term damage to soil and water quality.
Farm policy must encourage changes in the ways farmers conserve their soil and water, and the crops they plant, and at the Center for Rural Affairs, we are looking for solutions to these challenges. Our soon to be released report, Banking on Carbon, seeks to encourage agriculture’s greatest tool to reduce atmospheric carbon, namely sequestration in the soil. It also describes other practices and public policy options that can increase farm and ranch resilience and decrease atmospheric carbon.
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