EDITOR’s NOTE: Mark Ludwig of Fennville, Democratic candidate for 80th District State Representative in 2018, is Rural Caucus Chair for the MI Democratic Party and Vice Chair of the Allegan Conservation District.
by Mark Ludwig
Farm commodity prices have been down for some years, depressed by a hyper competitive global market, domestic overproduction and recently by a disastrous trade war with our best overseas customers.
Farm financial indicators are flirting with numbers not seen since the crisis of the 1980s. Wild weather driven by climate disruption is also hammering farmers with droughts, unfriendly temperatures and unprecedented rain events. USDA backed crop insurance set records in Allegan County in 2018 with more than 7,000 acres of prevented planting claims, ground so wet it could not be planted.
Meanwhile in Washington D.C. the youngest woman ever elected to congress and a mass movement of her generation are spearheading a “Green New Deal,” at long last the outline of a plan with enough ambition to actually tackle the climate crisis. While imperfect, the early plans could plant the seeds of salvation for farmers across the country if they can embrace the already vibrant soil health movement that swept country the last decade.
A healthy soil has plenty of carbon bearing compounds, 2-5% organic matter is very possible with decent management. Most soils have lost organic matter over decades of modern agriculture, the carbon oxidized into the air as CO2 by tillage and aggressive fertilization with cheap fossil fuel based nitrogen. Forty years ago farmers began to experiment with no tillage systems of crop production. These systems tend to gain soil carbon over time, absorb more rain water and reduce the cost of production. Soils drain better, loose less moisture during dry spells and allow deeper crop roots to develop; all good things when the weather gets wild.
The popularity of cover crops is growing. These plants are grown to feed and cover the soil, accelerating carbon capture and generating stable nitrogen compounds for cash crops Getting carbon out of the atmosphere and retaining storm water runoff are both valuable services for all of us. The current timid efforts to pay farmers to adopt these changes could be greatly expanded to address the decade long challenges faced by farms of all size.
The Green New Deal is at risk of becoming the new Red Scare. Our hyper-partisan world has defined climate change as a Democratic issue while the bulk of our farmers vote Republican. Any effort to act together to solve problems gets shellacked with a taint of socialistic peril. The backers of this much needed climate response would do well to understand the relatively simple changes farmers can undertake to support their laudable goals and take care with their rhetoric.
Farmers ought to embrace these changes, not just to get paid for their good works but also to maintain their viability in a world where the weather is more difficult every year. We all ought to be asking where our mutual interests lay before we head to our political camps.