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Report: Feds Could Do More to Help Protect Farms from Climate Change


Friday, November 22, 2019   

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Extreme rain events and wide swings in temperatures are just some of the climate-change threats facing Minnesota farmers. And their advocates say federal policymakers need to do more to make sure farmers are protected from crop losses caused by changing weather patterns.

This year in Minnesota, many farmers have struggled with the fall harvest due to muddy fields. Tara Ritter, senior program associate with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says that's just one example showing that now is the time to act, so more farmers can adopt mitigation practices.

"The more soil health that a farm has, the better it's going to be able to absorb water, so it'll be able to adapt better to drought and flood," says Ritter.

A new report from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says in addition to crop losses, climate change also threatens livestock.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has questioned the effects of climate change, suggesting that cyclical weather patterns are to blame.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does offer conservation programs to help make environmental improvements to farms, but the report suggests it isn't enough.

Ritter says a lot of mitigation practices, such as cover cropping or no-till farming, can be implemented by farmers without state or federal assistance. But she says to have a greater impact, federal ag officials need to rethink their spending priorities.

"There are currently a lot of dollars that are targeted towards large-scale animal operations," says Ritter. “You know, one thing that we're advocating for then, is shifting those dollars towards different types of grazing systems instead."

Those grazing systems would mean using a more strategic approach to leaving livestock in the field, thus having a more positive impact on the environment and in turn, on the land. As far as policy targets go, Ritter says the larger goal is the next Farm Bill, which isn't until 2023.

Disclosure: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy contributes to our fund for reporting. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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