Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 20th, 2019

How USDA is failing farmers

leave a comment »

Helena Bottemiller Evich reports in Politico:

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.

“This house is 80 years old,” Oswald says, stepping inside the darkened living room, which now smells faintly of mold. “Never had water in it.”

American farmers are reeling after extreme rains followed by a “bomb cyclone”— an explosive storm that brought high winds and severe blizzard conditions — ravaged the heartland, turning once productive fields into lakes, killing livestock and destroying grain stores. The barrage of wet weather across the country this spring left a record-shattering 20 million acres unable to be planted — an area nearly the size of South Carolina. Other weather-related disasters, from fires in the West to hurricanes in the Southeast, have converged to make the past year one of the worst for agriculture in decades.

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.

Even these limited efforts, however, have been severely hampered by the Trump administration’s hostility to even discussing climate change, according to interviews with dozens of current and former officials, farmers and scientists.

Top officials rarely, if ever, address the issue directly. That message translates into a conspiracy of silence at lower levels of the department, and a lingering fear among many who work on climate-related issues that their jobs could be in jeopardy if they say the wrong thing. When new tools to help farmers adapt to climate change are created, they typically are not promoted and usually do not appear on the USDA’s main resource pages for farmers or social-media postings for the public.

The department’s primary vehicle for helping farmers adapt to climate change — a network of regional climate “hubs” launched during the Obama Administration — has continued to operate with extremely limited staff and no dedicated resources, while keeping a very low-profile to avoid sparking the ire of top USDA officials or the White House.

“I don’t know if its paranoia, but they’re being more watchful of what we’re doing at the local level,” one current hub employee said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid possible retaliation. “It’s very interesting that we were able to survive.”

The result is parallel universes of information. On the climate hubs’ under-the-radar Twitter account, farmers, ranchers and the public receive frank reports about monsoon rain storms becoming more intense across the Southwest, fire seasons getting longer across the West and how rising temperatures are already affecting pollinators.

“With #climatechange, wet is wetter, hot is hotter, dry is drier… and what do we do about all that?” reads one hubs account tweet from last April, quoting a New Jersey farmer talking about how to adapt to climate change.

The climate hubs’ account has only 3,200 followers. There are about 2 million farmers and ranchers in the country. By contrast, the official USDA Twitter account, with nearly 640,000 followers, completely avoids the topic. That account hasn’t used the word “climate” since December 2017.

Nearly every farmer and rancher POLITICO interviewed for this story — dozens in hard-hit states including Nebraska, Ohio and California – said they had not heard of the climate hubs. Of the few producers who had heard of them, most were not aware of the many adaptation tools and resources that have been developed to help with decision-making.

Though Oswald has been unusually vocal about climate change negatively affecting farmers, he, too, hasn’t heard much from the climate hubs, nor does he ever hear USDA officials broach the subject. Asked if his local USDA office ever talks about climate change adaptation, Oswald laughed.

“No.”

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.

***

The Agriculture Department is not one of those government agencies that believes it does best by doing least.

Founded in 1862, at Abraham Lincoln’s request, the department would grow to play a central role in the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt, embracing a more activist approach to respond to crises like the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Today, its mission is even more expansive. The department doles out billions of dollars in farm subsidies, underwrites insurance on millions of acres of crops, researches and helps control diseases that threaten plants and animals and buys up massive quantities of food when farmers produce too much — a surplus that supplies food banks and schools nationwide.

But when it comes to climate change, there has been a curious silence hanging over the department, even as its own economists have warned that warming temperatures will make helping the agriculture sector more expensive in the future. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some interesting charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2019 at 5:58 pm

48-hour tempeh — looking good

with 2 comments

I’m going to let it go until I need to use the oven this evening, so a few more hours after this:

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2019 at 2:19 pm

%d bloggers like this: