Climate Change Could Alter Farming Landscape in the U.S.

If 2019 is any indicator of what is to come, then producers will need to adapt their practices to climate change.

The impact could change production levels depending on the region, with some states becoming less productive, and others will see little to no change.

In an article published by the USDA for their magazine Amber Waves, they found a correlation between climate change and agricultural productivity. Changes in temperature and precipitation can have different effects on crop and livestock production. For crops, the Oury index is a measure of aridity and rainfall with regards to temperature, which is an effective indicator of climate conditions and crop growth. Heat stress to livestock fertility, weight, and feed efficiency are measured with a Temperature-Humidity Index. It found that “changes in THI (Temperature-Humidity Index) and the Oury index varied by U.S. region.”

The map below shows the potential impact on ag productivity, assuming a 2-degree Celsius temperature increase and a one-inch decrease in precipitation. The TFP, or “total factor productivity,” accounts for both production and the cost of inputs like seed, irrigation, fertilizer, labor, equipment, and other factors.

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The USDA states that some states have gradually adapted to the changes in average climate conditions over time and have adopted, “technologies or practices that can mitigate damage from adverse weather.” While average changes in temperature and precipitation may not have severe impacts on productivity if they fall within historical fluctuation ranges. In contrast, “unexpected weather shocks, such as severe droughts that fall outside the range of historical weather fluctuations, have more significant impacts on regional productivity.”

While the above is true, it appears that the USDA is avoiding some of the underlying causes of these fluctuations. In an article written by Helena Bottemiller Evich for Politico, the “topic has historically been too politically toxic in the traditionally conservative agriculture sector, which fears more regulation while also being extremely reliant on government programs.”

The same article also points out that the USDA currently is spending less than 1% of its budget to fight climate change. Bottemiller Evich theorizes that the reason could be the current administration’s hostility towards discussing climate change. She states, “When new tools to help farmers adapt to climate change are created, they typically are not promoted and usually do not appear on the USDA’s main resource pages for farmers or social-media postings for the public.”

Farmers and ranchers could be a major player in the effort to reduce climate change. Currently, there are USDA climate hubs that were established to assist farmers to deal with “weather extremes” (climate change) that are operating on a shoestring budget. There are studies by the government stating that, perhaps, we should pay producers to sequester carbon by changing their tillage practices. What if private companies paid producers?

These ideas will be discussed in the next few posts as they merit talking about them in-depth. Agriculture could be the solution and not the problem as people may perceive.

 

 

 

 

 

The Story Behind California’s Proposition 12 and its Impact on Out-of-State Producers

Update: Judge Christina A. Snyder ruled against the lawsuit brought by the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) stating Proposition 12 was in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

California’s Proposition 12 could potentially impact the way out of state producers of eggs, pork, and veal do business with the state.

The proposition establishes new standards for confinement of certain farm animals and bans the sale of products that do not comply with the new confinement standards in the state. Specifically, Proposition 12 requires that all eggs sold in the state come from cage-free hens by 2022, and it also bans the sale of pork and veal in California from farm animals raised in cages that do not meet new minimum size requirements. Therefore, farmers across the country who sell eggs, veal, and pork in California will be required to comply with Proposition 12.

Currently, the North American Meat Institute has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the proposition stating that it is a hindrance to the “interstate commerce” clause of the Constitution.

However, Proposition 12 was not the first effort by California voters to establish standards for animal housing. In 2008, California voters passed the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act by a wide margin. The purpose of that ballot measure, known as Proposition 2, was “to prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.”

As a result of the proposition passing, egg producers challenged the vague language in court as it did not define the specifics of “cage-free.” As a result, the industry created its own guidelines for housing known as “enriched colony housing systems.”

According to Poultry World in 2011, JS West & Company, a family-owned egg farming business in California, installed and opened the first enriched colony housing system for layer hens in the United States. American Humane Certified, the nation’s largest and oldest third-party certification of farm animal welfare, certified the new system installed at JS West.

The Big Dutchman AVECH housing system installed at JS West & Company included 10 rows and 6 tiers with each row measuring 498 feet long that housed approximately 150,000 birds with 116 square inches per bird.

After the law took effect in 2015, egg prices rose by as much as 33 percent, according to a study by Perdue University. By July 2016, the study found that the number of laying hens decreased by 35 percent, and prices stabilized to nine percent higher. Prior to the proposition going into full effect, eggs were being imported from several states to make-up for the production loss. The state legislature in an effort to enforce its standards on other states passed A.B. 1437 in 2010. The bill shifted the legal burden of Proposition 2 from egg producers to vendors, requiring that all eggs sold in California comply with the new standards, regardless of where they are laid. Six states at the time filed a lawsuit against California on the grounds that Proposition 2 violates the Commerce Clause by imposing state regulations on interstate trade. Federal courts rejected this challenge despite several appeals.

Since the passage of Proposition 2, twelve other states have brought similar propositions to the ballot similar to California’s Proposition 12. A 2016 Massachusetts law bans the sale of products from illegally confined animals is mired in lawsuits from other states, citing a violation of interstate commerce rules.

Proposition 12 requires 144 square inches per hen (current rules are 116) until December 31, 2021, and then bans the use of any cages. Sows confined to gestation crates during pregnancy have 24 square feet of space, and veal calves 43 square feet. The passage of the measure could potentially set a new standard for cages and crates for other farm animals, a standard that would mark an increase over the average space available to these animals nationwide.

Previous lawsuits regarding the Commerce Clause could be a barometer for the lawsuit brought by the North American Meat Institute. California tends to set the national agenda for social and environmental policy. The consideration of the agenda set by Proposition 2, and now, 12 asks two questions. Will the regulations improve the lives of animals and their facilities? Second, will this legislation continue to set a precedent for other states and lead to comprehensive animal improvements?

 

The 2019 Wheat Quality Council’s spring wheat tour: Great learning experience and my first professional gig

It’s shortly before 7 am, and we arrived at the first stop of the day. The sun is peeking through the clouds, it’s 63 degrees outside and the smell of morning dew is in the air. The only sounds you hear are the closing of the doors to the van and the birds far off into the distance. The four of us walk through the field, through the rows to different parts with yardsticks and a pen in hand.

“What did you get for row width?” asks Michelle.

“I got 8 inches,” I answer back, and the others agree.

Our first stop is a wheat field just outside the town of Starkweather, North Dakota. A small town with an estimated population of 117 in Ramsey County in the north-central portion of the state. It’s the third and last day of the 2019 Wheat Quality Council spring and durum wheat tour in North Dakota. We agreed to meet at 6:15 in front of the hotel and depart on our assigned route to scout fields and measure the estimated yield and condition of the wheat crop.  Today our van would make 10 stops. We are one of 13 other cars each assigned a color route departing from Devils Lake and ending in Fargo, North Dakota for the final tally and wrap-up.

The previous two days would take me from Fargo south through parts of Minnesota, then west on highway 11 through towns such as Lidgerwood, Oakes, lunch in Ellendale and overnight in Mandan. A total of 315 miles and stopping in 11 wheat fields taking measurements. The second day was north on Highway 83 to Minot and east on highway 2 through Rugby, the geographic center of North America and ending in Devils Lake, for 12 stops and 228 miles.67476065_10157418649124851_7223735164776480768_o

“We were on the purple route with 12 stops. Our average yield was 34 bushels per acre with a high of 43.5 and a low of 23.8,” states Michelle to the crowd gathered in the meeting room of the motel.

Each evening all the cars would give their recap of what they found, exciting stops on their routes and the overall yield for their route. Some groups reported driving along the Enchanted Highway, a stretch of highway in western North Dakota that has several large metal sculptures. Others stopped at decommissioned nuclear warhead silos or some that were not with soldiers in Humvees and 50-caliber guns on the backs. Everybody mentioned the good and not so good places that they ate lunch.

How we measure the fields

Prior to leaving for the first day, there was an orientation where we were given a yardstick, a booklet with information on the procedure for taking samples and a formula devised by NDSU Extension. Each individual usually walks about 40 to 50 yards into the field. Depending on your preference, you measure the width of the planted rows first or the number of heads in three feet of row. I started with a row width by placing the yardstick halfway down the stalks and seeing the distance between the middle of each stalk. Rows are usually planted in 7, 8 or 10 inches apart. On your yardstick, you note the width. Then I place the yardstick on the ground in the row and count the number of wheat heads in that 3-foot section and again note that on the yardstick. From there, you select 4 random heads and count the spikelets from different parts of the plant not counting the very bottom or top one. If there is a disease, you note that along with the development of the kernels.

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Wheat head with individual sprinklets

“What did you get, Charles?” someone will ask.

“I got 85 and 10,” would be something I answered back with 85 being the number of heads and 10 the number of spikelets.

The assigned person takes an average of everybody and does the calculation based on these three factors. At the end of the day, we will take a calculated average based on the number of stops and note the high and low yields for the day.

To give context, a bushel of wheat yield weighs 60 pounds. One 60-pound bushel of wheat produces about 42 pounds of white flour (more for whole wheat since it uses the kernel), or 60 to 73 loaves of bread depending on size, or 42 pounds of pasta. The calculated yield for the entire tour was 43.1 bushels per acre. North Dakota ranks number one for production of spring and durum wheat and harvested 6.31 million bushels of wheat (about 49 bushels per acre). This year was lower due to wet weather and planting conditions, along with many fields not being planted or growing other crops.

In early Spring there is also a hard winter wheat tour in Kansas, as well as tours by various organizations for other crops. This year’s tour had 61 people participate from government organizations, flour mills and others in the industry, international organizations, and three journalists, like me, tweeting the results.

There is something so tranquil about standing in a wheat field with the gentle breeze blowing and watching the waves of grain move in the wind that made this worth it. It was an exhausting three days of getting to bed late to file a story and getting up early to have a couple of cups of coffee to function. I ate some great food and stayed at some so-so motels. However, it was a great learning experience writing the story, seeing firsthand how it is done, and talking with farmers over supper. I met some great people, and I hope to write about them in the future.