Rick Brown is a relentless salesman; he pursued Gretchen and me with his hands full of frozen pork chops after we visited the St. Brigid’s Meadows stand at the Cameron Farmers Market recently.
He gave an engaging grin and said we would be pleased with the flavor of the organic pasture-raised red wattle pork. And he invited us to learn more about the St. Brigid operation near Coon Valley.
I was taken by one of the photos in his display that showed beef cattle grazing in a sweeping grassland pasture, some of them taking advantage of a huge awning that provided shade. The vast expanse of permanent vegetative cover is among recommendations on how agriculture can be resilient in times of high-impact storms that are part of climate change.
Our visit to the farmers market was the day after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the way the world manages land for food production has to change to curb global warming.
Without changes, food security, health and biodiversity will be at risk, the report said.
The photo reminded me that St. Brigid’s land use fosters the carbon sequestration and erosion control that was referred to in a draft USDA Climate Resilience Science Plan.
The link to the draft report was in a story recently by Politico, the nonprofit news agency that covers government policy, which had received the draft report from a source in USDA.
The draft report was being suppressed by the Trump administration, part of a systematic downplaying of results of research that did not align with the administration’s skepticism on climate change, according to Politico.
The Politico report is but one of many reports on government action that contradicts the needs cited by the UN and its own agency’s studies calling for action on climate change.
Another example: A veteran USDA scientist resigned in protest because the agency had suppressed information on his research showing that an atmosphere increasingly rich in carbon dioxide could lower key vitamins, minerals and protein in rice, a vital world food source. The scientist is part of a team investigating which strains of wheat and rice will be best suited to future climate conditions.
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In July, USDA announced it would move some 500 employees in the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from Washington to Kansas City, a move some critics said would diminish the influence of science on policy making and research grants in areas such as climate change adaption and conservation.
In the USDA’s website for the Office of the Chief Economist there is posted an acknowledgement of the effects of climate change in agriculture: “Beyond variations in temperature, the effects can extend to precipitation, water availability, frequency of extreme events, and increased outbreaks of pests and disease, all of which can have an impact on productivity. The Climate Change Program Office coordinates across USDA and other Federal agencies to help ensure that the effects of climate change are understood and that farmers, ranchers and forest land managers are positioned to manage these risks.”
And this in another USDA release in 2013: “Successful adaptation will require research to identify management practices that enhance the resilience of these systems to climate change effects, develops stress-tolerant plant and animal varieties, and establishes new approaches to conserve soil and water resources.”
How, one wonders, will the USDA perform its vital role in helping agriculture adapt to and mitigate climate change without consistent leadership from the top on down that meets the needs of the nation and the world for U.S. agricultural production.
President Trump’s leadership so far is “I don’t believe it” in response to a question about the most recent national climate assessment last year, prepared in part by the USDA.
But farmers continue to seek ways to adapt to the intense storms and other disruptions from climate change.
Though lacking the full-on support from Congress and the president, they can receive help from government agency personnel at state and federal level and agricultural business interests that, based on science and economic interests, move ahead with responses to climate change,
As for St. Brigid’s Meadows, its earth-friendly organic agriculture continues as it has since their founding in 1978, but with the modern addition of solar panels that provide most of the electric needs.
Its brochure story concludes with the following heartening words: “We believe in farming the right way, working with nature to positively impact our soil, our community, and our planet.”
We bought the pork chops ... and embrace the belief.