American farmers can't afford this administration's climate apathy

American farmers can't afford this administration's climate apathy
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If only American family farmers had the luxury of sharing this administration’s indifference to climate change.

While millions of farmers and ranchers are still reeling from record flooding and rains this spring, rebuilding from catastrophic wildfires and hurricanes, and scrambling to figure out what and how to grow in the face of rapidly shifting weather patterns, the only advice from Trump’s agriculture chief is to check the weather forecast.

"You know, I think it's weather patterns, frankly,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueChinese trade negotiators cut US trip short Lawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE told CNN on Tuesday in response to a question about the causes of climate change. “It rained yesterday, it's a nice pretty day today. So the climate does change in short increments and in long increments.”

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Perdue’s remarks are not new or surprising — since day one, this administration has pushed regressive environmental policies. It has withdrawn from international climate agreements, rolled back emissions standards, and hindered a disaster assistance package to help communities and farmers recover from increasingly harmful and frequent storms. And the anti-climate rhetoric seems to have only escalated as time has worn on.

On Sunday, Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBiden pressed about LGBT record during Iowa forum Republicans to hand out 'baseball cards' mocking Gary Peters in Michigan Pence taps former DHS spokeswoman as his new press secretary MORE wouldn’t acknowledge climate change as a threat to the United States. Meanwhile, in his home state of Indiana, farmland and tornado-damaged buildings are steeped in floodwaters.

Then a report from POLITICO made waves Monday morning, finding that during Perdue’s tenure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had buried studies from its research arm that showed the risks and dangers of climate change to American agriculture. The news comes as Perdue is working to move two other research agencies out of Washington, D.C., an effort many scientists and farmer advocates say is aimed at quashing research on climate and other topics deemed controversial or inconvenient by President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE. Just this month, the Washington Post called the meddling by the Trump administration in USDA’s research agencies a “war on science and statistics.”

But while this administration buries its head in the sand, farmers are feeling the consequences of climate change in real time. Higher temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and more frequent and extreme weather events are already making it more difficult to grow food, and the challenges are only expected to mount in the coming decades. If climate change goes unchecked, it will threaten not only the livelihoods of family farmers in this country, but also the entire global food system as we know it.

Though the obstacles are many, farmers are actively looking for solutions. We are gathering with neighbors and friends, in church halls and community spaces across the countryside to share ideas for how to adapt to changing weather and reduce emissions. We are implementing conservation practices that sequester carbon in the soil. We are installing on-farm renewable energy producing systems. We are growing corn and other crops for ethanol and other biofuels, renewable energy sources that will power America’s future. And we are working with food companies to reduce the environmental footprint of some of America’s favorite foods.

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All of these efforts depend on a strong foundation of objective, publicly funded, and widely-disseminated research. As climate change presents bigger and more complex problems, we will need more of this kind of research — not less. Without continued innovation or access to findings, farmers may not have the tools to face these challenges going forward. But by supporting climate science, this administration can help ensure that farmers are using the best practices on our land to mitigate and adapt to climate change and that policy makers are developing programs and incentives to support those practices.

The weather might be nice today, but we are doing a disservice to all Americans by pretending that it will stay that way forever. Climate change is a very real and immediate problem. We need our leaders to open their eyes, step up, and provide real and immediate solutions. 

Roger Johnson is a farmer and the president of National Farmers Union, the oldest general farm organization in the United States. NFU represents 200,000 family farmers and ranchers.