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How to Manage Climate Change Without Saying Climate Change

Relax. You can still reap agronomic and economic benefits with tools that also sequester greenhouse gasses.

A public relations executive recently shared a story about preparatory work he did to prepare a scientist set to receive a major award. (The award was a tad bigger than the leg lamp in the move A Christmas Story, as it recognized a technology that revolutionized an industry.)

“Now, this is a huge honor,” the exec told the scientist. “So if anyone asks you about the controversy, here are some talking points.”

“Controversy?” asked the scientist.

“Well, yes, and there probably will be some protesters there, too.”

“Controversy? Protesters? Why?”

“You mean…you haven’t heard about it?

“Well…no…why? The technology is just protein…”

Well, Yes

I always recall that exchange when I think about writing an October 2014 Successful Farming cover story on climate change.

I’d previously nibbled at this subject, aware that there was a debate over whether or not it is occuring. The first story I wrote about it sprung from a conversation I had with a global chemical company scientist at the Commodity Classic. I sheepishly asked him if manmade climate change was real.

“Well, yes.”

His puzzled look mimicked the award-winning scientist’s befuddlement as to why there should be any controversy over sound science. He added that it was common knowledge among industry and government scientists who study climate that manmade climate change was real, and agriculture was in a great place to help remedy it via carbon sequestration strategies.

Subsequent conversations with both industry and government scientists confirmed the same point. Particularly influential was a 2014 Cargill report called Risky Business: Our Nation’s Economy at Risk from Climate Change that cited peer-reviewed science and private sector econometrics modeling to reveal the risk climate change poses to business.


With that information in tow, I wrote the story. Editors at Successful Farming magazine joked that whenever we write about climate change, a side benefit is that it fills our Your View (Letters to the Editor) page. That story was no different. We received letters and e-mails condemning us for promoting a godless Communist conspiracy. Maybe it’s the threat of Al Gore coming out in mom jeans and mud boots telling them how to run their farms that spurs this. After all, the threat of increased regulation is anathema to most farmers. (Some of these letters and emails came in all caps, some unsigned, but to their credit, no cuss words.)

Surprisingly, though, about half of the correspondence complimented us for finally saying what is so obvious in the scientific community.

Maybe, just maybe, folks are dealing with climate change by not saying climate change.

I’d never thought much about that angle until I was interviewed by Hiroko Tabuchi, a New York Times reporter. A couple weeks ago, her story, called Navigating Climate Change in America’s Heartland, ran in the New York Times.

Editors often refer to the heart of a story as the “nugget.” In this story’s case, the nugget was this paragraph:

“People are all talking about it, without talking about it,” said Miriam Horn, the author of a recent book on conservative Americans and the environment, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman http:// “It’s become such a charged topic that there’s a navigation people do.”

Most everyone acknowledges weather patterns are shifting, even if they don’t attribute it directly to climate change.  In the Midwest, many note spring windows for tillage and planting have narrowed. Climate models that show Midwestern farmers will face increasingly wetter springs and falls and drier summers in the future back this pattern.

 “There still will be dry years like in 2012, but that is not the trend,” says Dennis Todey, director of USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub in Ames, Iowa.

Temperatures are warming, but not in the way folks may initially think. “We are getting fewer hot days but warmer nights,” says Todey.

That’s bad for corn and soybean production. Ultimately, high nighttime temperatures in the 70s and 80s spur factors like wasteful plant respiration and lower sugar production that ultimately can decrease yields.

It’s not all bad news. Warming temperatures that may curb crop production in Oklahoma will be welcomed in areas like northwestern Minnesota or northern North Dakota. On the other hand, warmer temperatures mean little if you can’t enter the field during soggy springs.


Fortunately, more and more farmers are using tools that can buffer increasingly volatile weather and climate patterns and save soil while sequestering greenhouse gasses. One quartet of techniques includes:
• No-till
• Cover crops
• Diverse crop rotations
• Livestock grazing

Numerous agricultural companies and other entities have other good ideas. Some are contained on Monsanto’s webpage at Reports on this page show that precision agricultural practices that lead to better input efficiency can also potentially lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Maybe it’s not as important to utter the words “climate change” as it is to adopt practices — where applicable — that have economic and agronomic benefits. Any sequestration of greenhouse gasses that helps curb climate change is a nice side benefit.  


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