With this overwhelming sense of worry about climate change, and observing the infighting happening over budgets in the US Congress, we try to focus on solutions close to home.
This Guest Commentary piece that Dan sent in to our local newspaper last week explains in much better words than I’d ever have how federal spending can get small farms to help mitigate climate change, and at the same time help farmers adapt to the realities of changing weather extremes:
How Federal Spending Can Get Farms To Help Mitigate Climate Change
*Published in The Lakeville Journal, Thursday, September 23, 2021
My name is Dan Carr. Along with my wife Marleen, I own Beavertides farm in Falls Village. We use regenerative grazing practices to raise grass-fed goat and lamb, produce honey and offer classes on beekeeping. I am also the technical assistance coordinator for Berkshire Agriculture Ventures, a not-for-profit organization that supports the local food and farming economy across the Berkshire-Taconic region.
Before Henri and Ida both hit our region last month, the ground was already saturated. The two storms each dropped between 3 and 6 inches of rain on our farm. Being at the foot of Canaan Mountain, most rain that falls on the mountain ends up passing through our farm via Wangum Brook. Our farm is called Beavertides because the beavers significantly slow the flow of water through Wangum valley.
Surely anybody who sits in the path of a major storm feels significant stress, but it is particularly potent for farmers. In both storms, we got our animals to high ground in advance and came away mostly unscathed. The increased strength and frequency of storms bring home the dire assessment released this summer through the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Adapting our farm and community to a changing climate is at the forefront of my mind.
Climate change challenges agriculture through heat waves, floods, fires, droughts and increased pests. These challenges are particularly difficult for small farmers, which begs the question: How will you keep getting local food in a changing climate?
There is a two-part solution: 1.) Continue to support local farmers who are battling climate change with your food dollars. 2.) Demand resources for farmers using regenerative practices at a federal level. We have a unique and rare opportunity right now to push our representatives to support small farmers in the budget reconciliation negotiations that are going on in Congress.
U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-5) is a strong advocate for small farms and she sits on the House Agriculture Committee. She recently helped shepherd in language for the pending reconciliation bill that invests in climate-friendly agriculture with particular wins for sustainable agriculture-focused research, education and extension programs. She supports working lands conservation programs that help farmers adopt practices like using cover crops, rotational grazing, no-till farming and agroforestry (the intentional planting of trees on farms). These practices can help mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in soils and trees, thereby reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the rate of global warming. These practices also make our farmland more resilient and able to weather major storms.
The IPCC’s climate assessment makes clear that increasingly severe weather is already baked in for the next few decades. We have to both deploy farms as a tool for climate change mitigation and also help farmers adapt to the realities of changing weather extremes. I have seen how many of the existing, proven federal programs help. Programs like Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) allow our local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) agents to support individual farms while incentivizing them to adopt key mitigation and adaptation practices.
I also see how NRCS programs like Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) can give farmers the opportunity to help prove innovative practices like riparian buffers; where farmers plant woody perennial plants along farm waterways. Riparian buffers not only stop soil erosion and water pollution, but also produce fruit, nuts, timber and other sources of revenue for farmers.
Let’s also advocate to direct more of our federal dollars toward small local food production as opposed to the current corporate consolidation of our food system. During the pandemic we saw the vulnerability of a consolidated corporate livestock processing system as meat shelves went empty. In June of this year a cyberattack on JBS industries knocked out 20% of the U.S. beef processing capacity. Four companies (Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef) process 85% of beef, 70% of pork, and 54% of poultry in this country. By supporting small locally owned abattoirs our federal spending can make our local food sheds more resilient to whatever might be coming in the future.
Please seek out advocacy groups like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to continue educating yourself on how you can effectively communicate with your elected officials on meaningful climate action. Attention now turns to the senate agriculture committee, the budget committees, and eventually the house floor where I hope sustainable farms will win the investment we need.
A silver lining in the IPCC report states the worst effects of climate change are still avoidable. That we can keep the increase of global temperatures below 2 degrees Centigrade, but only if we take bold action now! Sustainable agriculture will play a critical role in combating climate change. As a farmer, I’m excited to be a part of the climate solution.