In the midst of a record-breaking cold snap in the South, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is releasing today a comprehensive position paper detailing policies for agriculture to adapt and mitigate climate change. This study integrates the most recent climate research to develop comprehensive agricultural policy recommendations. However, it won’t keep shivering Southerners from echoing the tweet from a Florida golf course last winter that “perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming.”
Climate change does not always mean global warming, but it does mean challenges to all farmers in the US. The report details the likely climate changes which will take place and how farmers can adapt to these changes. The report also details how climate change is intensified by hog and cattle factory farms and traditional row crop practices.
The report notes climate change is taking an anomalous path in parts of the Southeast. In some areas, centered around Alabama, Mississippi and southern Arkansas, temperatures have cooled by an average of 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958, while global average temperatures have risen 1 degree. This cooling has mainly occurred in the winter months.
The cause of this “global warming hole” appears to be relatively warmer air in the Arctic pushing the still cold Arctic air deeper into the US. So cold air, which once only reached Ohio, is now getting down to Alabama. The 2018 article propounding this theory is at this link.
Most importantly to non-farmers, the report reveals how farms can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce release of other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. The South has immense potential for locking such greenhouse gases in soil and perennial biomass where they can increase resilience of Southern farms. Most soils in the South have vast capacity for increasing their storage of organic carbon. The long growing season and high rainfall in the South provide perfect conditions for storing carbon in perennials and cover crops.
Some counties in the South have totally abandoned row crops and turned all their land into carbon-fixing pastures and forests. Two such counties, Neshoba County in Mississippi, and Winn Parish in Louisiana, have turned from cotton to management intensive grazing and trees. These counties, which rank in the top counties on resilience nation-wide, did not set out to be climate change pioneers. They developed farming systems based on perennials because these systems fit their agroecological conditions. They left row crops to the farmers in flatter ground such as the Mississippi Delta.
Farmers in the most resilient Southern counties realize the benefits of manure from animals along with perennial biomass. They are managing their land to mimic the movement of the herds of buffalo which helped create the carbon rich soils of the plains.
Research cited by the NSAC paper indicates that everyone, even vegetarians, should applaud management intensive grazing since it is one of the top means of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Even those who don’t eat meat should support agricultural systems where animals graze perennial species in ways that mimic nature’s adaptive cycles.
NSAC’s paper also points out that increasing resilience has implications far beyond climate change. Climate change is just one of many disturbances buffeting farmers. Others include tariffs, input costs, market fluctuations, labor supply, and policies which support monocultures grown on immense acreages.
The good news is that resilience to all disturbances can be enhanced by the practices and policies advocated in the NSAC paper. The best agroecological research indicates that increasing diversity, soil health, perennials, animals on pasture, composting wastes and organizing local processing and marketing helps the climate and helps farmers’ bottom lines.
Download your copy of the policy paper at this link: NSAC Climate Change Policy Position_paper .
For discussions of resilience beyond climate change, see the Resilience Project’s reports at this link.
To find out how your county ranks on resilience, try out the tools at this link.