Title from the "USDA Regional Climate Hubs Factsheet". Graphic: USDA

By Luke Runyon
18 May 2017

(Harvest Public Media) – The livelihoods of farmers and ranchers are intimately tied to weather and the environment. But they may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

Farmers stand to lose a lot if worst-case climate projections come to pass. They are likely to face extreme swings in temperature and precipitation. Pests and crop diseases will show up more frequently. Heat stress could stunt meat and dairy production by the nation's cattle herds, costing farmers billions of dollars in lost revenue and forcing food prices to rise.

Given the scope of the problem, the search for novel ways to adapt to a changing climate is driving agricultural research. The new administration in Washington, D.C., however, is attempting to change not just the direction of climate research, but also the tone and rhetoric around the issue.

For more than a decade, the federal government has taken on a large role in directing and funding climate change research, spending more than $11.6 billion on climate research in 2014 — an increase from just $2.4 billion in spending in 1993, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Former President Barack Obama made climate change adaptation and preparation a signature issue, rolling climate goals into policies across the government. […]

Trump's new USDA secretary, Sonny Perdue, is now overseeing the agency's climate change projects, including the 10 climate hubs. He does not deny climate change is happening, but injects seeds of doubt about humanity's role in causing it.

"I've been on a farm since the early [1950s] and I can tell you the climate is changing," Perdue says. "But the fact of what the cause of it is, is really what is in dispute."

Nearly every climate scientist in the world disagrees. So do portions of the USDA's website that say unequivocally climate change is human-caused. But similar statements are slowly being scrubbed from other federal websites, leading some to question the Trump administration's commitment to well-established climate science.

"Farmers care about this a lot," says Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, a left-leaning farmer advocacy group. He was a North Dakota farmer for the majority of his life.

"What farmers really want is good, solid scientific information about how they can better operate their farms and ranches," Johnson says.

With equivocation or outright denial of the facts about climate change from those in charge of the country's top scientific and regulatory agencies, that solid scientific information from publicly funded scientists is in jeopardy, Johnson says.

"It looks really fuzzy right now," he says. "It looks like there's a bunch of science deniers, climate deniers that have largely been installed in high levels in this administration." [more]

Will The Government Help Farmers Adapt To A Changing Climate?

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