The New Green: Farming affects, and is affected by climate
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 00:11
Everyone knows that farming is heavily influenced by climate. Environmental factors like precipitation, soil health and temperature determine which crops will grow and how big yields will be. What may not be so instinctive is the notion that the climate itself is heavily influenced by agriculture. However, this certainly is the case, and the relationship between farming and climate is being highlighted right now by a controversy over the U.S. farm bill.
In a recent New York Times article, writer Mark Hertsgaard explains: “The farm bill is not only the centerpiece of United States food and agriculture policy, it is also a de facto climate bill.” He goes on to say that the summer of 2012 “should have set off alarm bells. The hottest July on record and the worst drought in 50 years – both driven partly by global warming, scientists say – have parched soil and withered crops across the Farm Belt. Yet America’s lawmakers aren’t even remotely addressing the issue in a piece of legislation that will affect the climate profoundly for years to come.”
The proposed bill does nothing to help American farmers make their businesses more eco-friendly, and offers no aid in preparing for the effects of climate change. This is a disastrous oversight, as agriculture is estimated to contribute roughly one third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In fact the proposed House and Senate bills encourage many practices that are actually detrimental to the environment, such as offering subsidies for huge monocultures of wheat, rice, soybeans, cotton and corn (“the big five”). Growing monocultures is not only unhealthy for the environment, but it also poses a major threat to our food security. Growing just one crop-type means that all of the plants will have the same environmental and disease sensitivities, and the risk of losing the entire crop due to changes in climate is much greater.
The federal farm bill has been renewed every five years since 1949, but this year it expired on Sept. 30 and Congress failed to renew it. Some are hopeful that it will be passed when Congress returns in mid-November (and works until around Christmas).
Although Connecticut is largely a services economy, agriculture is a part of our heritage and is still very important to our economy. The outcome of the U.S. farm bill will most certainly have implications for how farming is done in our state. What if instead of accepting the destructive policies handed down to us from Washington, we fought for a bill that rewards organic growing practices? That helps farmers access solar and wind energy, and other renewables? This is certainly something that the citizens of Connecticut could achieve, and with our recent drought and rising temperatures, perhaps it’s time we got started.