How American farmers will be hurt by Trump's decision to leave Paris accord

Matt Russell is Resilient Agriculture Coordinator at Drake University’s Agricultural Law Center, as well as a farmer in Marion County. This commentary first appeared in The Conversation. -promoted by desmoinesdem

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement fails farmers, one of the major constituencies that helped him win the White House. Arguably, U.S. farmers are the most capable of developing systems to both reduce and remove greenhouse gas emissions. But the Trump administration is ignoring our nation’s farmers as a strategic national asset in the global fight against climate change.

For nearly a century, U.S. agriculture has been the uncontested leader in agricultural innovation. Farmers have had three important sources of support that helped them create the green revolution, which allowed production to keep up with global population growth. These include public research and education from land grant universities; private industry; and public policy, especially the federal farm bill but also state-level policies.

While there are still production challenges, the bigger challenges facing humanity are not increasing yields but maintaining productivity in the face of an increasingly hostile climate and a need to stabilize the climate before it deteriorates further.

Farmers all over the world must innovate to develop environmental services focused on greenhouse gas emissions and sinks. Unfortunately, the general attitude of U.S. farmers prevents them from embracing this new and emerging challenge. Many of them share President Trump’s skepticism about climate change.

Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement is focused on energy policy and doesn’t consider American farmers. Yet agriculture is emerging as one of the most promising players in addressing climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere in the soil. One can argue China, Europe, Australia and possibly even Brazil will start investing in agricultural innovation similar to the way China and Europe are investing in renewable energy.

For the last 100 years, American farmers, their elected officials, industries that serve them and great innovators like George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug have led the world in developing agricultural solutions to big problems. The next big problem is climate change.

American farmers can be at the vanguard of finding agricultural solutions to sequestering carbon. But by abandoning the Paris Agreement, President Trump has shown that he is not going to help American farmers work on these solutions and, thus, reap the benefits. American farmers could still do it, but the president made it much more difficult for them to do so and much more likely that farmers in another part of the world will lead the next agricultural revolution.

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  • Very good column!

    The huge need to sequester carbon also fits into the need to make agriculture more sustainable and resilient in general. Unfortunately, much of industrial agriculture remains in a circle-the-wagons mentality, portraying industrial farmers as the beleaguered misunderstood heroic figures and those who want resiliency improvements as the ignorant farm-economy-destroying enemies.

    The same carbon-sequestering methods that would help address climate change would also protect and improve topsoil, a threatened resource that is critical to agriculture. Iowa is losing topsoil at a disturbing rate. On the average rowcropped acre, we are losing soil about twenty times as fast as it is being replaced, according to the best new research.

    But instead of facing that reality, industrial-ag groups keep telling Iowans that Iowa farms are losing less soil than they did thirty years ago. That is true. But the fact that a formerly-horrible situation is now somewhat less horrible doesn’t make it good.

    Ironically, the conservation-minded farmers who are determined to farm more sustainably and are making changes in that direction sometimes face bigger challenges from our current farm policies than conventional industrial farmers who are doing only the minimal conservation needed to stay eligible for crop insurance subsidies. And unfortunately, that situation seems unlikely to improve under Trump.

  • Missing here: the big farm justice aspects

    It’s certainly true that farmers are hurt by climate change, that many in agriculture demonstrate it’s huge potential for addressing climate change, that they voted for Trump, and that he is not helping them. But beyond that there are big problems with much of the rest, including the comment. While the farm bill helped farmers hugely in past decades, (Yea, Henry A. Wallace!) it has turned against farmers since 1953, as price floor programs were lowered, more and more, until they were ended in 1996. We had those programs because farm markets chronically fail, on but supply and demand sides. Like now, int he 21st century! It’s clear now how ever cheaper farm price floors have forced farmers to subsidize the loss of their own livestock to CAFOs, (the livestock option to adjust a farm,) leading then to the loss of sustainable crop rotations, (the option that frees us from dependence upon the input complex). While Wallace forced the biggest corporations in the world to pay farmers from 46% to 76% more for 11 years in a row, (1942-52 vs 1920-35,) and lesser amounts for decades more, today Congress and all of US agriculture are colonized by the agribusiness “megamachine” (Lewis Mumford) We’ve been exporting 8 major crops for less than full costs most of the time since 1981 (i.e. every year 1981-2006 except 1996, and 1993-today for dairy, except 2007 by a few pennies per gallon. Some colonization! This is a problem as big as climate change that’s being left out of such discussions re. agriculture, everywhere you look. The world is hungry more due to overproduction than underproduction, for decades. It’s that we’re not “paying the world” of farmers that people are starving, led by the farm bill. (80% of the “undernourished” are rural) Mainly people want to blame the farmer victims, such as over subsidies, (where farmers get less and less and less, with corn as the biggest loser). Thus we’re divided and conquered, with almost no one opposing, (knowing how to oppose,) the cheap prices that subsidize the megamachines, (input/output/CAFO). See my blogs here for more insight. Farmers are understandably defensive about the resulting solutions that only add to their costs, while doing nothing about the colonization. With no one supporting farmers, no wonder they turn to Trump.