"Farmers need support to mitigate climate change" US NFU member tells Senate Agriculture Committee

Like nearly all American farmers and ranchers, NFU member Clay Pope has experienced more frequent and severe weather extremes in recent years as a result of climate change.
calendar icon 15 March 2021
clock icon 3 minute read

But with the support of voluntary, incentive-based government programs, the Oklahoma Farmers Union member and sixth-generation rancher has made his family’s operation more resilient to unpredictable precipitation patterns and wild temperature swings, as he told the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry during a hearing on 11 March. The expansion of these programs and the development of new ones could help farmers facing similar difficulties.

No part of the country has been spared the effects of climate change, but the symptoms vary drastically depending on the region. For Pope, it has meant “ice storms, changes in rainfall patterns, milder overall winters, record wildfires and, most recently, a historic cold snap that broke all previous records.” It’s hard to deny that “something is going on.”

To adapt to these challenges, he and his family have shifted to production methods that “minimize soil disturbance, maintain residue cover on the soil, keep something growing on the land as much as possible, and incorporate livestock into the system,” Pope told the committee. By building soil health, these practices have not only prepared his farm to bounce back more quickly from flooding, drought, freezes, and heat, but it has also cut their input expenditures, increased yields, and reduced soil erosion. “Our investment in soil health has helped us better prepare our farm for climate change in a way that has helped both our productivity and the environment.”

These kinds of adjustments often require a significant amount of time, money, and expertise, which is why Pope didn’t make them alone; he received “technical assistance and financial help from an Environmental Quality Incentive Program contract…NRCS, the local conservation district and…the Conservation Stewardship Program.” In order to assist other farmers like him, Pope urged the committee to “build on the UDSA’s voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that allow for produce choice and flexibility.”

On top of expanding these programs, legislators can bolster climate mitigation efforts with market-based solutions like carbon markets and biofuels production. In his testimony, Pope outlined recommendations for how to best implement these mechanisms in a way that “will strengthen producers’ bottom lines and provide major public goods through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner water, and a more stable and abundant food supply.”

Pope’s concerns for the climate do not make him an outlier; indeed, they are shared by National Farmers Union’s (NFU) nearly 200,000 family farmer and rancher members, who just last week called for immediate action from the federal government to address this crisis. “Having experienced the consequences of climate change firsthand, farmers understand better than anyone just how serious it is,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “They’re eager to step up and do their part to protect the planet – but it won’t be easy. They need all the support they can get, which is why we’re asking legislators to pursue every single solution available.”

Read Clay Pope’s full testimony here.

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