A Farmer's View of Climate Change

Climate change is happening. Farmers who work with higher elevations may be able to deny it. Those of us on more variable and wetter soils cannot. I have been aware of it in our farming for 20 years.

The water cycle is impaired. This is the most obvious. Excessive rainfall spreads into a huge number of rainy days and it becomes a challenge to walk from house to barn. Twenty years ago, I "solved" this farm's problems with groundwater and excessive wetness by going to grazing on the lowest acres, thus firming things up with large and complex perennial root systems. This idea held for perhaps a decade. It no longer works.

Today, two days ahead of Memorial Day, I took the herd off the pastures because they were destroying the sod. I guess we will feed them with the hay crop we couldn't get made last year. If we can't find hay or alternative grazing, we will have cattle for sale. This time of year should see the herd unable to keep up with the feed. Instead we have little grass growth on waterlogged soils because of low temperatures.

The thing is, we know how to begin to solve this. It is a climate problem because it is a carbon problem. We have carbon in the wrong place—the atmosphere instead of the soil. And yes, cars are responsible for this and so is industrial production. But so is industrial agriculture. We have spent millennia burning off carbon-organic matter, which is 58 percent carbon, into the air. The solution has everything to do with learning how to use perennial plants.

It took us thousands of years to make this mess. We need to be starting in a better direction whether we think we have time or not. We dare not wait for government!

Land Stewardship Project member Jim VanDerPol, along with his wife LeeAnn and their son Josh and daughter-in-law Cindy, own and operate Pastures A Plenty, a grass-based livestock farm in western Minnesota. Jim writes frequently about farming, and is the author of Conversations With the Land. He originally wrote this blog for the Pastures A Plenty website.