With extreme drought hitting the entire area, we actually started haymaking as soon as I got back to my ranch after the National Farmers Organization National Council meeting in Iowa on June 25th. I got off the plane and walked home, then started cutting two hours after walking. through the farm gate.
My wife, Wendy, had already made test cuts in a neighbor’s fields that we had been haying for a few years on a sharing system. After walking through the nearby fields, she called them and told them to just graze it. While we have cut most of our fields, we have left some plots in horrible condition. Overall, we got about a third of what we need. The problem is, the state of Montana is in bad shape. The whole of the West, along with North Dakota and South Dakota, is classified as unusually dry under extreme drought conditions.
It got me thinking about how our climate seems to be changing, and not for the better. Most of the farmland in the United States is either in drought conditions or, like on the Gulf Coast, extremely wet or inundated. There don’t seem to be many places rated as normal this year.
While swathing hay, I listened to a public radio interview with Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah. He is the spearhead of a GOP-only climate caucus. Curtis mentioned that climate can be a divisive term, but if you ask people to be a good steward of the land, that’s a phrase everyone approves of.
Curtis’s goal is to work with Republican members who are on the fence on climate issues and the role the government should play. I hope the GOP caucus members understand that the problem is real and that farmers are playing a major role in solving the puzzle of the climate dilemma.
I applaud the climate efforts in the nation’s capital. There is a real work of bipartite legislation in progress. The House and the Senate have caucuses on climate change. The Senate climate caucus is made up of seven Republicans, six Democrats and one independent. The House has 41 Democrats and 23 Republicans who deal with the climate. While they may not agree on everything, legislation moves forward through compromise and listening to each other’s ideas.
The best example is Senate Bill 1251, the Growing Climate Solutions Act. The GCSA passed the Senate last month 92-8. He should easily pass the house. This was billed as a major step in reducing America’s greenhouse gases. The carbon credit market can easily be described as the Wild West. This bill aims to give meaning to this market. The GCSA does two things: it provides technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and owners of private forest land on ways to reduce their GHGs or improve their capacity to capture carbon; second, it creates protocols for third-party auditors.
The GCSA, along with pressure from the USDA to increase the conservation reserve program land to 25 million acres, is proof that agriculture is an important part of the solution to climate issues. We will have the opportunity to help improve soil conditions, earn a little more income and, as Curtis noted, be good stewards of the land. Indeed, family farms and ranches are the best stewards of the land. Our goal is to pass the land on to the next generation of agricultural producers.
Bruce Shultz is vice president of the National Farmers Organization. He and his wife Wendy operate a cow and calf ranch in Raynesford, MT.