Predictions on the future of farmers and climate change
By Justin Isherwood
Farm magazines and farm newspapers are an intrinsic part of farm country. I have written for some, including the oldest farm newspaper in the country, where with the onset of the Tea Party I was outed as a liberal. I do confess having allowed my wife to vote, my girl child to go to college, and if she could do ten real pushups, join the Marines. I did realize my criminal tendency before Farmer’s Advance stopped buying my stuff. But such is the fate of writers, to fall out of favor because of some crosswind. My ag-sector is not known for its liberal emotions, a pattern I regret.
Farm newspapers and magazines often have to walk that thin line between journalism and jingoism, between beating the drum of progress and the act of cheerleading. No different perhaps than any hometown newspaper as celebrates its basketball teams, births, marriage and obituaries, if not necessarily its city council.
To no surprise my farm sector is among the last to accept climate change as a fact, despite farmers have a massive stake in climate change. On a continental scale, one cultivation pass skipped is a ton of energy saved. Same for a corn crop as doesn’t require gas drying, or bag of real potatoes cooked at home versus a bag of frozen French fries, meaning energy savings in millions of thermal units. To wonder if the term local food is misplaced. When the real difference is the local cook, meals prepared at home saves thermal units lost to processing and refrigeration. The difference this time in the billions of thermal units. Home cooking matters to the planet as it does the household.
My agriculture has been largely, and I think cruelly, abducted by Talk Radio to believe climate change is a hoax, also that our nation needs every man and woman citizen armed and passionately so, and hopefully equipped with an after-market banana clip.
And woe to any farm country publication that doesn’t recognize this character personality in their audience and massage their message as best they can to keep up circulation in a business sector where the echoes of “Get Big or Get Out” never cease. These the fateful haunting words of Secretary of Ag Butz during the Nixon and Ford administrations.
Successful Farming magazine has been a staple in the American farmhouse since the two-hole privy in 1902 when its first issue appeared. E.T. Meredith who founded the magazine was one time Secretary of Ag under Wilson. The Meredith Corp publishes Ladies Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens along with Midwest Living, Country Home and WOOD. They recently acquired Time magazine.
My mama was frustrated her entire life that her farmhouse kitchen did not resemble the beatitudes of the Better Homes and Gardens whose kitchens never looked like they dissected a dozen chickens on the kitchen table for the Ladies Aid chicken and biscuit supper. E.T. Meredith could have done my mama a favor with a Better Homes and Gardens issue able to dress chickens on the family table.
I don’t mean to pick on Successful Farming other than to note they are among the few country/farm publications to take Climate Change as a real cause for agriculture. Their Feb 2018 issue had a story titled “Will a mega-drought slam the US by 2050?” In the story author Dave Mowitz describes the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) well-known to climatologists, when a period of doughtiness existed for the somewhere of 400 years, 900-1300 A.D. with a radical effect on the Midwest and our ever lucrative Corn Belt. He describes in Mad-Max-movie gory detail how what is now the Sand Hills was then an active phenomenon. Mobilized being the word of choice, when those Sand Hills covered a third of the state with a Saudi Arabian-like landscape.
The MWP was a natural phenomenon that most scientists link to solar variability that has been identified in human history, to include plagues and war. The Norman Conquest, the beginning of the Crusades, Turks moving into the Byzantine Empire, all could have been climate related. In farm terms, another bad year.
The magnificent Indian community known as Cahokia with some 20,000 inhabitants was the most impressive human settlement on the American landscape, until somewhere of 1200-1300 A.D. when it vanished. Core samples of the nearby Mississippi River reveal time sequenced cores of silty clay suggesting massive flooding, preceded by cores of silt admixed with carbon suggestive of large scale prairie fires. Did a climate collapse end the Empire of Cahokia? We don’t know. Only to imagine had Cahokia survived it might have changed Indian culture to better bargain with European invaders.
In closing his article Mowitz ratchets up the forecast, saying the potential of a mega-drought is increased by greenhouse emissions. “If emissions aren’t curtailed, the chance of the U.S. Southwest suffering a mega-drought increases.” These are brave words for a farm country publication where climate change is still heretical. American agriculture needs more Revere-like-riders as Successful Farming magazine to alert the American farm sector to our collective ingenuity, as well as our responsibility to amend the curse of climate change.