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  • Writer's pictureHallie Shoffner

How climate change affects big ag farmers and, therefore, you

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Every year since 2018, farmers of all crops have been barraged by extreme weather patterns caused by climate change. I've been the principal operator of my farm for five years. Four of those years have been characterized by this ever-increasing threat.

The United States is the world's top food exporter with a concentration in staples - wheat, corn, and soybeans. These are traditionally grown on farms like mine - bigger equipment, herbicide use, etc. People think of us as "big ag," and as the operator of a 1,500-acre-farm, I'm leaning into that.

I'm going to talk about climate change from the perspective of a big ag farmer but I will address some of the struggles faced by specialty crop farmers too (vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs, etc.)

The Delayed Harvest of 2018 - In much of the South and Mid-West, farmers simply could not harvest due to heavy rains and mud. Crops rotted in the fields or in bins after they were harvested. Granaries wouldn't buy the lower quality crop. Even if they did, they paid lower than the market price. Farm bankruptcies increased by 20%.

rotten and moldy soybeans in a polybag
Rotten Soybeans from our 2018 Harvest

The Severe Floods of 2019 - Extreme flooding delayed spring planting in the South and Mid-West, forcing farmers to leave 19.4 million acres unplanted. In the fall, the rain began again. Many of us were forced to abandon hundreds of thousands of acres of harvest-ready crops to the elements. Farm bankruptcies were at an eight-year high. Farm owners and workers were found to be three to five times as likely to commit suicide as any other occupation.

washed out levee on the White River in Arkansas
Broken Levee Near our Farm

The Everything of 2020 - This was a year of true devastation. Then-President Trump made over 100 major disaster declarations including hurricanes in the Southeast (70% of US peanuts, pecans, and cotton), droughts and wildfires in the western US (83% of fruits and 47% of dairy come from the west coast), and a derecho in Iowa that destroyed millions of acres of corn and soybeans. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated a total of $6.5 billion dollars in agricultural losses. $3.6 billion was unaccounted for - meaning farmers shouldered those costs without assistance from crop insurance or other programs through the US Department of Agriculture.

The Severe Drought of 2021 - The nation's farms were hot and dry from coast to coast this past summer. The extreme drought concentrated in the West with moderate and abnormal drought in the Mid-West, Arkansas-Mississippi Delta, the Carolinas, and Virginia. I can't even begin to imagine trying to be a farmer in the Southwest or on the West Coast. Even with the abnormal and moderate drought we experienced, we had to spend significantly more money on water and irrigation and still experienced yield loss due to the heat and lack of rain.

using a polypipe to irrigate rows of soybeans
Furrow Irrigation of Soybeans

The 2022 Crop - My reality as a farmer is to rely on bad weather. I don't know whether I'll drown, fry, or blow away, but something will happen.

What happens to you when climate change affects farmers?

As the weather conditions in the US (and across the globe) impact farmers, food production in our country and in our trading partners will drop. The diversity of food options in American grocery stores will decrease and prices will increase. We will miss our large selection of fruits and vegetables, our varied choices of coffee, our abundance of steaks and hamburgers, and so many other things.

And, as the United States is the world's top food exporter, a drop in our production (in wheat, corn, and soy) will create waves in the global economy. As our exports decrease, so will those of many of our trading partners. Countries that rely solely on the importation of certain foodstuffs, like wheat, will experience hunger and starvation.

Also, agriculture and its related industries employ 10.3% of US workers. We will lose many of those jobs. Paired with that and a rise in prices, America's most vulnerable populations will experience more hunger.

It's a bleak forecast, but there is time to change it.

My first step as a big ag farmer is to advocate for climate action. To step up and say, "climate change is real, human-caused, and it is urgent that we do something about it - something big, something real."

Step two is for consumers to back big ag in our efforts to become more sustainable, more environmentally friendly, and a powerful ally of the Earth.

Step three is to stand together to MAKE climate change a priority for our representatives in state and federal government.

Something that really does work - emailing your senator and congressperson to tell them how urgent you think climate action is needed. I've reached out several times and always enjoyed a prompt and civil response/dialogue. One time I called my congressman's DC office and his chief of staff answered the phone.

Here's something you might say. "Hello, Senator or Congressperson, I am very concerned about climate change and how it affects me and farmers in my state. I believe this is an issue we must urgently address. What are your strategies to protect our food supply and those who grow it?"

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