'Climate change' absent from public discussion of drought

Farmer holding drought-stressed corn

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa— The eight hundred pound gorilla in the Mount Pleasant High School Gymnasium today was the subject of climate change. Governor Terry Branstad called for a public discussion on drought conditions in Iowa and all of the governmental players were there: USDA, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Farm Services Administration. The phrase “climate change,” or any analysis of causation for the current drought was absent from the public discussion. This was a meeting about row crop agriculture and related agricultural producers and it was intended to deal with the as-is situation. The obvious problem, as Mark Schouten of Homeland Security and Emergency Response put it, “you can’t snap your fingers and make it rain.”

In a well choreographed series of speeches, representatives of the Iowa Farm Bureau, Cattlemen’s Association, Pork Producers, Soybean Association and Corn Growers Association all spoke. Their entreaties were to be expected, release CRP acres to haying and pasture, help stabilize markets for commodities and pass a new farm bill, not an extension of the previous one. The only hopeful statement was from the Soybean Association, whose representative said there was time to recover yield in soybeans. The rest of the story, lost yield, stress on farmers, liquidation of sows and related price pressure, trouble dealing with crop insurance and potential farm failures were the dominant themes. The worry about this year’s drought was not that great for well capitalized farms. One speaker said he would capitalize this year’s losses over five years and plant again in the spring. Row crop resilience that is common in Iowa, if a farmer is okay financially.

It was the Farm Services Agency that raised the issue of environmental groups, saying a group had sued for an environmental impact statement before releasing CRP acres to haying or grazing. During the public comment section, a truck driver who had just delivered a load of grain stood at the microphone and demonized the environmental groups for trying to influence food production. It got the biggest applause at the event and the governor jumped on board reminding us of his joining a lawsuit in Nebraska against an environmental group.

Whether it was acknowledged or not, today’s meeting of farmers, citizens, elected officials, bureaucrats, media and advocates is what climate change looks like. Grown men and women (men mostly) who have invested a lifetime in doing what they think is right, facing the existential reality of a changing climate.

What seems true, more than ever, is that it doesn’t matter if a person believes in the science of climate change. We will be forced to deal with its consequences, as was done in a somber room in Mount Pleasant this morning.

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