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.






FDA’s Pesticide Residue Monitoring Report -something consumers should know, but nobody’s talking about

On October 23, 2018, I ran across a tweet from Jon Entine at the Genetic Literacy Project that caught my interest. It was an article referencing a piece from Keith Nunes titled, “F.D.A pesticide data demonstrate industry commitment to food safety” published in The Food Business News. As Entine noted, the data should have helped to alleviate the public’s fear of chemicals in food, and yet no news organizations covered the story.

According to Nunes, The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) conducted a survey in 2018 that identified the top three food safety concerns for consumers. Foodborne illness was the top concern, followed by “carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food,” “chemicals in food,” and “pesticides/pesticide residues,” all of which are similar. As Nunes notes, “the IFIC survey clearly shows some consumers have significant concerns about how raw materials are processed, and food and beverage products are formulated.”

However, there is a report that has received little attention, and as Nunes and Entine note could help calm some of the fears that consumers have. The FDA’s Pesticide Residue Monitoring program released in October published findings from 7,413 samples in its regulatory monitoring program: 6,946 human foods and 467 animal foods in 2016.

Of the 6,946 human foods, 4,276 were imported foods, and 2,670 were from 46 states and U.S. territories. The FDA found that over 99 % of domestic and 90 % of import human foods were compliant with federal standards. Further, no pesticide chemical residues were found in 52.9 % of the domestic and 50.7 % of the import samples that were analyzed. In its regulatory pesticide residue monitoring program, FDA selectively monitors a broad range of import and domestic commodities for residues of over 700 different pesticides and selected industrial compounds.

The study also tested 527 samples of domestic milk, shell eggs, honey, and game meat samples. Only one of the 527 samples were found to be violative. 98.0% of the milk, 83.8% of the egg, and 72.9% of the honey samples had no residues.

Another aspect of the testing is a program called the Total Diet Study (TDS), which is based on what consumers eat, and they buy, prepare and analyze about 280 kinds of foods and beverages from representative areas of the country, four times a year. FDA analyzed 1,062 total samples in the TDS program and found no foods contained violative pesticide levels. Of all the residues found in TDS foods, 87 % percent were at levels below 0.01 parts per million (ppm), and 2 % were above 0.1 ppm or 100 parts per billion (ppb). (Remember the Cheerios scare?)

For the first time, the FDA conducted a study to test for the presence of glyphosate and glufosinate. The FDA analyzed, “glyphosate and glufosinate residue levels in 274 grain corn, 267 soybean, 113 milk, and 106 egg samples. No samples contained violative levels of glyphosate or glufosinate, and no residues were found in the milk and egg samples.  Non-violative levels of glyphosate were found in 173 (63.1%) of the corn samples and 178 (67.0%) of the soybean samples and non-violative levels of glufosinate were found in 4 (1.4%) of the corn samples and 3 (1.1%) soybean samples.”

Lastly, the FDA also tested 467 animal food samples, 242 samples were domestic, and 225 samples were imports.  No residues were found in 104 (43.0 %) of the 242 domestic samples, and 0.8 % (2 samples) were violative.  Of the 225 import samples, 123 (54.7 %) contained no residues and 3.1 % (7 samples) were violative. Commodities used to feed livestock consumed by humans comprised a minimum of 81.8 % of the samples analyzed, i.e., Whole and Ground Grains/Seeds, Mixed Livestock Food Rations, Medicated Livestock Food Rations, Plant Byproducts, and Hay and Silage.  Of the 367 samples analyzed from these five animal food categories, four violations (1.1 %) were found.

According to Nunes and the IFIC survey, consumers were also asked who they trust when it comes to making recommendations on what food to eat and avoid, and the FDA was listed at 38%. The only group that ranked higher was health care professionals and nutritionists. These professionals, along with those who talk about food, agriculture and the issues affecting consumers need to spread the information and to dispel those who continue to or will fight these figures and spread evidence based on what they deem to fit their views.





Conservation Programs in the Farm Bill – A win-win-win for farmers, environmentalists, and … hunters?


When most people think of the Farm Bill, they think of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or crop insurance for farmers. While these two programs make up most of the funding for the Farm Bill, there are many other aspects to the bill, and one is for conservation. While the 2018 Farm Bill is currently in limbo, the House wants to cut programs by merging them and cut monies for a host of programs concerned with conservation. These programs are a win-win-win for farmers, conservationists, and hunters.

You may wonder hunters? I’ll answer that question after a general overview of three of the larger programs that will be impacted by the 2018 Farm Bill:

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

This is the most substantial aspect of the conservation program, and there are currently 23.7 million acres under the supervision of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and support from the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Farmers are paid on a per acre basis for 10 to 15 years based on how land is scored on an Environmental Benefit Index (EBI) and average rents for the area. The EBI looks at erosion, water quality, wildlife benefits, and enduring benefit factors. The program was also put into place to encourage farmers not to plant certain crops due to sagging commodity prices. Pat Westoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri, spoke with Harvest Public Media.

“Certainly, there are people who would like to see the ability to roll more acres both for environmental purposes but also frankly as a supply-control measure,” he says. “If there’s less land being used for crop production, that will give at least a modest bump to commodity prices and therefore protect the income of other farmers.”

Bruce Knight writing for Agri-Pulse takes a different approach, “As we look at renewing contracts on expiring acres or raising the acreage cap, we need to be sure that the program focuses on environmentally sensitive acreage, and we don’t wind up with high-quality land under CRP contracts. At the birth of the CRP program, it was used to short the corn and wheat supplies – let’s not make that mistake again.” Knight would rather see it moved into other programs (which I will talk about below) and use CRP for nutrient runoff and specific habitat benefits rather than whole fields.

There are about 5.7 million acres that expired at the end of the funding for the Farm Bill in September. Most of that land that is expired or due to expire is currently in trees and grassland and we need to ensure that the CRP focuses on these environmentally sensitive lands. The World Wildlife Federation supports the program as it preserves grasslands from development and conversion, further supporting wildlife habitat, water conservation, and erosion control.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides farmers and ranchers with a financial cost-share and technical assistance to implement conservation programs. These programs include improvements to irrigation, restoring pasture, and nutrient and pest management. Payments for conservation improvements cover costs incurred from the planning, materials, equipment and installation including labor and training. The USDA may pay up to 75 percent of these costs based on water quality and improvement, air quality improvement, wildlife habitat; including pollinator habitat and invasive species management.  However, socially disadvantaged, limited-resource, beginning and veteran farmer and ranchers are eligible for cost-share rates of up to 90 percent of project costs. Currently, 60 percent of the funds are set aside for livestock producers with five percent for beginning farmers and ranchers, and an additional 5 percent is set-aside for socially disadvantaged farmers – including minority and tribal producers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NASC) notes that between 2009 – 2015 the NRCS funded over $6.4 billion in financial and technical assistance through EQIP cost-share contracts. Over 260,000 farmers and ranchers received contracts, covering more than 81 million acres. In the fiscal year 2015 alone, there were over 32,900 EQIP contracts covering nearly 9 million acres and obligating over $861 million in financial assistance.

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

The CSP works like the EQIP program and is the largest in terms of land under conservation with over 70 million acres. Through the CSP, farmers and ranchers receive technical and financial assistance to maintain existing conservation programs and technical support as well. Farmers and ranchers can implement additional conservation activities on land currently in agriculture production. The CSP program targets are funding activities such as: assist farmers and ranchers improve soil, water, and air quality including conservation of water and energy; provide increased biodiversity and wildlife and pollinator habitat; sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gases to mitigate climate change. Payments are determined by costs incurred for the design, materials, installation, labor and maintenance or training. Additional payments are made for crop rotations that include cover crops, and forages that help to sequester greenhouse gases. According to the NASC, “Payments are capped at $40,000 per year or $200,000 over the life of the 5-year contract. Nationwide, payments and technical assistance average $18 per acre. However, payment amounts vary greatly, from lower-cost rangeland improvement contracts to mid-range pasture contracts to higher-range cropland contracts.”

Under the House version of the Farm Bill, this program would be eliminated and merged into the EQIP program. Eliminating this program would be counter-intuitive as a report issued by NASC states that members the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), asserts that for every dollar spent on the program ~$3.95 is generated in the returned value. States primarily in the Upper Great Plains and the Midwest will see a net decrease in funding over ten years.


By now you may be asking, how does this benefit hunters? In an article published in AgWeek this October, hunters were lamenting this year for the pheasant season in North Dakota. Part of the reason was the decline in acreage in the CRP program. In 2007, during the height of acreage in the program, “populations of pheasants, waterfowl, deer and other wildlife soared, and North Dakota hunters in 2007 shot 907,434 roosters, Game and Fish statistics show.” Since that time land enrolled in the program has declined, and that number dwindled to 309,400. Game and Fish has worked with farmers and Pheasants Forever to plant cover crops and other alternative practices on less profitable land to restore the population. Both versions from the House and Senate of the Farm Bill will increase CRP acreage, but the other conservation programs will also help restore habitat, not only for pheasants but other wildlife as well. This is a win for environmentalists to establish more property into conservation programs, and a win for farmers to get assistance for their less-profitable land, make their farms more sustainable and improved for future generations.

There are some people who think there will be some efforts to pass a Farm Bill during the lame-duck session at the end of the year. If so, contact your representative in the House and let them know you want to maintain these conservation programs and to pass the Senate version of the bill.