What You Should Know About Climate Change

Farm policy debate heats up in icy San Antonio

I knew I was in the right place this morning when a young farmer recognized me and, tapping his shiny iPad tablet, asked, "When are we going to be able to download your magazine on this?"

I'm in San Antonio today for the annual AAPEX (Association of Agricultural Production Executives) meeting. These are the top-level U.S. growers, the alumni group from  TEPAP (The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers). Over a thousand farms and ranches have participated in the program, organized and managed by Texas A&M Ag economist Danny Klinefelter (who got a nice standing ovation this morning for his efforts).

When the blizzard hit the Midwest this week I was really looking forward to escaping to Southern Texas. I got here - but just barely. I chiseled the snow out of my driveway in Decatur, Ill., drove the patchy freeway to St. Louis, got on an airplane to Dallas only to discover the city was panicked from 6 inches of snow. I flew on to San Antonio for the meeting only to discover the cops were closing down the city due to a thin layer of ice on the freeways. I found a cabbie willing to take me the 20 miles to the hotel - at 15 mph, we got here in about two harrowing hours. San Antonio is not set up for cold weather.

Ice? In San Antonio? The only place I want to see ice in San Antonio is in my drink. But, I digress.

Climate change, anyone?

Icy roadways in Southern Texas was a fitting backdrop for the first speaker this morning. Laura Sands, a policy expert with the Clark Group, LLC, gave a cautionary presentation on energy, climate change, carbon markets and the future of sustainable initiatives. And they're all related! Her message was compelling. In a nutshell:

*Energy security is driving this discussion in Washington, D.C. now. The military sees more global unrest related to food and energy and the more energy we get from domestic sources, the better off we will be.

* Other countries have these cap and trade markets. They have been tried in this country, but have not taken hold. Farmers have not been convinced they would necessarily profit from such a system. Carbon markets fell apart, but there's a good chance they will come back.

* Farmers would profit from a carbon offset market, where greenhouse gas emitters, such as utilities or large manufacturers, buy 'offsets' from someone who has measurable, certified practices that sequester carbon. In farming those are practices like methane digesters, no-till, filter strips, variable rate fertility and cover crops.

* It's not enough to start implementing practices; we're going to have to figure out how to quantify and certify that we've generated the carbon sequestration gains that we think we have, she says. Those measuring sticks are being developed now.

*According to studies, a carbon market will enhance ag revenues for corn, soybean and wheat growers, if structured properly. That is, if you adopt these greener practices and they are valued appropriately. Non adopters will get hit by severely higher input costs by 2025. "It's very important to control the cost side," she says. "This is why it's important to be engaged in policy."

* So how do we connect the dots in D.C. with farm fields and carbon markets? You can't just shut this issue out. Wal-Mart, for example, is serious about sustainability. Even if you are growing corn, soy and wheat, this matters. Wal-Mart wants to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from their global supply chain by the end of 2015. Why? Green shoppers come to their stores far more often and spend more than the average consumer. This is a retailer's dream customer base, and more than half of U.S. customers consider themselves to be "leaning green" or are influenced by green policies. It always comes back to the consumer.

Sands was pelted with questions. Farmers are still dubious about climate change. What if the extreme weather we've been experiencing is just part of a long-term cycle, one farmer asked. Are we just implementing policies that will be a drag on the economy? And how do you agree to long term investments when you live in a country where policy leaders focus on short-term goals, like getting re-elected?

There's a lot to consider, but my two cents is this: Whether you believe climate change is happening is no longer relevant. The things that you can or may be doing in carbon sequestration and sustainability will be good for you, your pocketbook, the planet, and your customers. Do you need any other incentives?

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