Climate change comes for farmers – from Mozambique to Iowa
By Timothy A. Wise
Originally published at Medium, as a contribution to Climate Media Week as people the world over strike for climate action and justice. Find Part 1 here.
Part 2: Iowa: implicated in climate change
As Amnesty International’s secretary general Kumi Naidoo told the BBC, “There is one inescapable and burning injustice we cannot stress enough. The people of Mozambique are paying the price for dangerous climate change when they have done next to nothing to cause this crisis.”
You can’t say the same about Iowa. Every part of Iowa’s industrial model of agriculture is implicated and threatened by climate change. Implicated because industrial agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gasses; 14 percent are attributed directly to agriculture. That jumps to 23 percent, according to a recent UN report, when deforestation from agriculture-induced land-use changes, is taken into account. High rates of nitrogen-fertilizer applied to Iowa’s corn fields contribute to emissions of nitrous oxide, more potent than carbon dioxide. The state’s factory farms add to the problem when concentrated manure is sprayed on farmers’ fields.
Threatened because the evil twins of climate change are coming for Iowa’s farmers too. NASA modeling for Iowa shows a high probability of more intense storms, like the recent cyclone, with a growing threat of long droughts. Rising temperatures are making nights too warm for optimal production, and high daytime temperatures are drying out the plants in soil no longer rich enough in organic matter to retain much moisture. Summer rains are less consistent; farmers can’t count on rain in that critical two-week period after the corn tassels.
Many years it is now just too hot and too dry, depressing yields. A University of Minnesota study estimated that by 2075 Iowa corn yields could be 20-50% lower than they are today.
Like their Mozambican counterparts, some Iowa farmers could face the loss of two years of production to the recent flooding. Many lost this year’s crop to late planting, and some lost last year’s as they watched storm waters destroy last year’s stored crops to water damage. They hadn’t sold their corn and beans because prices were so low and President Trump’s trade war had destroyed the export markets they have come to depend on.
Many farmers now fear losing their farms. Debt levels are rising and farm prices remain low despite the flooding. Most vulnerable are those who owe on mortgages or farm equipment, purchased in the boom years when ethanol drove crop prices to unprecedented highs. Those who rent land are also struggling, and more than half of Iowa’s farmland is now rented. Many expect the floodwaters will add to a wave of consolidation as large landowners and outside investors buy up distressed farms at auction, further hollowing out rural areas.
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