Episode 190. Climate Change & the USDA

This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 21st of October 2019.

Jon Moore reporting!

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

This week we’re focusing on the front line with a piece from Politico in the US entitled: ‘I’m standing right here in the middle of climate change’: How USDA is failing farmers.


ROCK PORT, Missouri — Rick Oswald is standing on the doorstep of the white farmhouse he grew up in, but almost nothing is as it should be.

To his right, four steel grain bins, usually shiny and straight, lie mangled and ripped open, spilling now-rotting corn into piles like sand dunes. The once manicured lawn has been overtaken by waist-tall cattails, their seeds carried in by flood waters that consumed this house, this farm and everything around it last spring.

End Quote

Weather events have been hitting the US farm sector as much as the Australian, South African and, well, everywhere. The thing with the US and Australia is the lunacy of the right of centre parties and in both cases, governments and their religious attachment to Climate Change Denial.

This has knock on effects throughout the agricultural sectors of both countries. 

In the EU, climate change is accepted as a thing that needs reaction. The funding rounds they use, and I’m no expert on these, but what I can workout from observation and reading is, the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was designed to ensure famine never returned to Europe after the experiences of the first half of the Twentieth Century. More of this CAP is being directed towards environmental and biodiversity measures. 

In the US the situation somewhat complicated. The USDA is responsible for promoting farming methods, assisting in the sale of agricultural production and a few other things. According to the article, the department has been banned from even using the “climate” in any of its publications. And it goes deeper:


But the Agriculture Department is doing little to help farmers adapt to what experts predict is the new norm: increasingly extreme weather across much of the U.S. The department, which has a hand in just about every aspect of the industry, from doling out loans to subsidizing crop insurance, spends just 0.3 percent of its $144 billion budget helping farmers adapt to climate change, whether it’s identifying the unique risks each region faces or helping producers rethink their practices so they’re better able to withstand extreme rain and periods of drought.

End Quote

So what’s to be done?

The myth of farmers as small “c” conservatives is based upon some level of truth. Equally though, they are in business. The unstoppable flow of climate data and lived experience hitting up against the immovable object that is family tradition leads to change. There are organisations out there, NCAT, ATTRA is a great example. I’m not sure but they may well be part of that .3% the USDA spends on adaptation and even if it is, the organisation is worth its weight in gold. The ATTRA part stands for Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas or something close to that. It matters not as they always use the tagline Sustainable Agriculture.  NCAT is the National Centre for Appropriate Technology.

I’ve been a fan of the site for over a decade and a half. All their material used to be free and fair bit still is but pay walls were added after the crash of 07, 08 and don’t seem to be coming down any time soon. They provide no-till info, market research tools and more than I can list here. Their podcast is one I recommend and listen to. Now pasture management for Boer goat breeds in Arkansas may not be directly applicable to North West Tasmania but I always find some nugget in each episode.

There are also things called Climate Hubs in the US but not many farmers have heard of them, they keep a low profile in the current political situation. Funding can be cut at a moment’s notice. Even those farmers who know about these don’t know much about the adaptation tools for decision making they’ve developed. The situation, to those on the front line is perplexing.


Asked if his local USDA office ever talks about climate change adaptation, Oswald (The farmer from the first quote) laughed.


The logic for such silence makes little sense to farmers like Oswald: Most believe that the climate is changing, though only a small share believe it’s primarily driven by human activities. But the department doesn’t have to dive into the debate about what’s causing climate change to help farmers prepare and adapt.

“I’m standing right here in the middle of climate change right now,” Oswald said.

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And this is the sad reality. The front line is being let down by the very people supposed to be helping.

As any listeners know I’m all for introducing regenerative measures to increase soil carbon and this is being explored in the US too. 


Environmentalists and a growing portion of the industry think American agriculture could be shifted from a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions to instead be a massive carbon sink, or a giant sponge pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into millions of acres of soil — something that could actually help combat climate change.

And as we all know:

There are several relatively simple changes farmers could make to become more resilient, which also have the benefit of drawing down carbon. Producers, for example, can reduce or eliminate tillage, which not only prevents soil carbon from being released into the atmosphere, but also helps improve how soil holds up to too much or too little moisture. They can add what’s known as cover crops to their crop rotation, a practice that helps build better soil structure — and has the added benefit of sequestering more carbon into the soil, making it more resilient to extreme weather.

End Quote

This is the madness I have trouble with. A few changes would lead to better soils, soils better able to withstand weather events, produce healthier food, clean waterways, lower costs of production and, well, you get the picture but these things are being ignored for the sake of political positions? It is I think a matter of mobilisation of both people and ideas. I hope this podcast is assisting to reach the 100th monkey I spoke about in Episode 189

All we can do is to continue to push our arguments. Let people know there is another way. To grow food by example and be the change we want to see.

And on that note I’ll draw this episode to a conclusion.

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

We are in the process of writing RegenEarth’s second season of podcasts and I’ll let you know when they are roaming free on the interwebs. In the meantime you might want to listen to our short season one and subscribe so you’re ready for when season 2 drops.

Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.



World Organic News

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‘I’m standing here in the middle of climate change’: How USDA is failing farmers



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