Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Climate change has already impacted USDA policy.

President Obama recently unveiled his Climate Change Action Plan. This may come as news to some, but the reality is that climate change policy has already impacted farm policy through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Earlier this year, the USDA issued a report on the effects of global climate change on United States’ agricultural production. The report, available free online, “Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation,” details the possible effects that changing climate may have on U.S. agriculture. Unlike the EPA, which has sought ways to reduce carbon emissions and “greenhouse gases” through regulatory channels, the USDA report is focused on making sure that U.S. agriculture adapts to any changes in climate.



The report does not paint a doomsday scenario. It explains that many parts of the U.S. will see rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns in the next few decades. This will have different effects on growing crops, depending on where you live, and will likely add to the stress of raising livestock. The expected result will not be an end to U.S. agricultural production, but it may necessitate some changes. Will the Corn Belt slide up to Canada? We’ll have to wait and see.

The USDA report focuses on adaptation. It explains the need for more drought-resistant crops and a shift to livestock more able to withstand extreme weather. Biotechnology, plant and animal breeding, will all play roles in helping U.S. agriculture adapt. From a policy standpoint, the USDA suggests the need for risk-management tools. Crop insurance is one example of a means for farmers to minimize any extreme weather risks.

The USDA also has ways for farmers to obtain money to reduce greenhouse gases. “AgStar” is a collaborative program between the United States EPA, USDA, and Department of Energy. AgStar recently held its annual convention in Indianapolis. AgStar promotes the use of anaerobic digesters that capture biogas to produce electricity, heat or hot water. Some larger Indiana livestock farms already have digesters. There is currently grant money available to farmers wanting to construct digesters. It’s not enough to pay for construction, but it does help offset the costs.

Farmers may not buy into climate change research. That’s okay. Farmers aren't currently subject to any regulations curbing carbon emissions or greenhouse gases on the farm. That could change in the future. In the meantime, farmers should not ignore that many policymakers already believe in climate change research, and as a result, there are some real opportunities for U.S. ag producers to make improvements on their farms—especially those that produce manure.

By Todd Janzen

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