In searching for an idea of what works and what doesn’t to simultaneously support American farming while mitigating climate change, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee met Tuesday and heard from several experts conversant in different aspects of the challenge.
Some of these issues will no doubt come up in the 2020 campaign cycle, as U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., sits on this committee, as do three Democrats who are campaigning for their party’s presidential nomination.
“Maintaining the health of our planet for future generations is, of course, of paramount importance,” said Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “But, so is feeding the billions of people that populate the Earth today, and in the years ahead. These topics and how they interact is complex, and we are pleased to have this discussion at the Agriculture Committee, whose constituency plays an important role in meeting those challenges.
“America’s farmers and ranchers are continually learning and evolving in order to improve agriculture production efficiencies, and to conserve natural resources, increase resiliency to Mother Nature, and to maintain a profitable business.”
Roberts advocated, however, for a cautious approach.
“Obviously, climate change is a complex and global issue — we must be thoughtful, informed and deliberate in considering potential responses and consequences,” Roberts said. “If farmers are hindered from utilizing existing technologies and research, or if unsound regulatory decisions are made today on emerging technologies such as genome editing, we can expect an economic result that is, at the least, more costly, and worse, unsustainable for our farmers and ranchers.”
Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said that with the right support, producers can decrease emissions and profit from practices that involve carbon storage in soil and trees.
“Sound science has helped our farmers grow the safest, most productive food supply in the world, and will continue to do so,” Stabenow said. “That same sound science is telling us that climate change from carbon pollution is an urgent challenge. And that same science is giving us the tools to confront and address it. No one understands the stakes and potential solutions better than our farmers and ranchers.”
Perdue was unable to ask his question at the hearing because he has to leave to chair a meeting of the Senate Subcommittee on Seapower. His statement, though, was placed into the ag committee’s record and provided to The News by Perdue’s office.
“Farmers will have to grow 70 percent more food than what is currently produced to feed the world’s growing population by 2050,” Perdue said. “We don’t solve this problem with big government. We solve this problem by bringing public and private stakeholders together to find solutions. In my home state of Georgia, we have provided those tools through public private partnerships.
“One example of these partnerships that I am proud of is the University of Georgia’s Stripling Irrigation Research Park. Through buy-in from federal, state, and private partners, Stripling Irrigation is on the cutting edge of precision agriculture. A great example is their work on Variable Rate Irrigation which has shown to provide an average of 15 percent reduction in water usage. This is one of many examples of public and private entities working together to solve a problem not because they were told to by the government, but because it is good for both the producers’ bottom line and the environment.”
Perdue intended to ask Nebraska farmer Matt Rezac what he thought were the biggest obstacles to further innovation and implementation of precision agriculture and conservation tools.
In his statement to the committee, Rezac said, “Just as I use ‘precision agriculture’ tools to optimize my production and minimize inefficiency, precision conservation tools and planning help me reduce ‘waste’ in my production system. In this case, waste means lost top soil and misplaced crop inputs.
“On our farm we use variable rate fertilizer, and moisture probes in the soil to manage water. We are extremely precise about our nutrient management, making adjustments in season. We use tissue sampling during the growing season to know exactly what the plant needs. Most people don’t understand this, but giving a plant too much of a certain nutrient, such as nitrogen, is just as bad as giving it too little, and it just adds to waste.”
Video recorded of the meeting can be found at agriculture.senate.gov/hearings/climate-change-and-the-agriculture-sector.