- 25 November 2013
American farmers “at ground zero” of more volatile weather
Pam Johnson, of Floyd, Iowa, serves as Chairwoman of the Corn Board of the National Corn Growers Association, a farmer-led trade association with offices in St. Louis and Washington.
She spoke at Climate Week NYC in September 2013 on ways in which farmers can help address and adapt to a changing climate.
"I am a sixth-generation farmer from Iowa. And I say that because I believe we are on a trajectory to make improvements. Perhaps more than any other sector of the economy, farmers are dependent upon the weather, and must find ways to adapt to changes to remain productive.
"In recent years, it is clear that variations in weather patterns are becoming more frequent and more extreme. The drought of 2012 was the worst – one of the worst – in U.S. history. Hot, dry conditions persisted throughout the country. Eighty percent of agriculture land suffered. Two thousand counties were declared disaster areas. And seventy-five percent of corn production was impacted. The drought is estimated to cost American agriculture more than $30 billion.
"In spite of these setbacks the story could have been much worse. The good news is that technology and advancements in agriculture are helping farmers become more resilient in the face of volatile weather while also significantly decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Corn production last year averaged 120 bushels per acre, as compared to 85 (bushels per acre) in 1988, and 25 (bushels per acre) in 1936, when similar droughts were devastating.
"A 2012 Stanford study states: ‘advances in high yield agriculture over the past few decades have dramatically curbed emissions by reducing pressure to convert forest to farmland.’ Without increased yields additional greenhouse gas emissions from clearing land would be equal to a third of the world’s total output of greenhouse gas since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1850.
"Field to Market’s Environmental Indicators report published last year states that: ‘corn farmers reduced energy use per bushel by 43 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent between 1980 and 2011.’
"Modern agriculture is not the problem. It is the solution.
"We are producing more grain on limited arable acres. Many factors have contributed to these dramatic improvements. GPS mapping and computer technology provides precision for planting, fertilizing and harvesting corn. Conservation tillage sequesters carbon, reduces soil erosion and conserves water.
"These sustainable practices benefit the environment, making farmers more productive and adaptive in the face of extreme weather, and mitigate greenhouse gas.
"Agriculture biotechnology holds a great deal of promise for making crops more resilient in extreme weather. Seed companies have developed drought-tolerant varieties, and nitrogen-efficient varieties will be commercially available in coming years allowing farmers to apply less fertilizer.
"For every dollar spent on Ag research and development in the last 50 years, methane, nitrous-oxide and carbon dioxide were reduced by a quarter ton of CO2 equivalent – a high rate of return compared to other options for reducing emissions.
"Corn farmers also reduce greenhouse gas through the production of bio-fuels. Compared to ordinary gasoline, corn ethanol lowers the level of greenhouse gas emissions in vehicle exhaust by as much as 51 percent, according to the EPA. Global ethanol production and use reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 100 million metric tons in 2012 – the equivalent of taking 20 million cars off the road.
"Our nation’s farmers are at ground zero as we adapt to more volatile weather patterns. NCGA believes that climate policy should be based on evidence science, using a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that regulatory impacts do not hamper future growth and ingenuity in agriculture.
"American farmers have long been committed to conservation practices that contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation, while ensuring a long and prosperous future for our industry and our families.
"Farmers are committed to taking care of the land and our natural resources, and the next generation deserves nothing less."
Watch the speech recorded live at Climate Week NYC: