Recently, three of the biggest names in Business (Hank Paulson, Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg) published a study called “Risky Business” that looks at how climate change could affect our economy, and they spend a lot of time talking about what could happen to farmers across America.
The warnings are likely to shock anyone who has not been paying attention to the historic drought affecting farmers in the West.
I manage a 4,500 acre alfalfa and wheat farm in Utah, and we’re planning on expanding to 13,000 acres soon.
I’m bullish about my farm, but Risky Business’s projections do not surprise me.
You don’t have to be a climate change expert to understand severe weather.
Why should you care? It’s pretty simple. If you drink milk or eat beef, you depend on alfalfa growers like me, because cows and cattle eat what we grow.
We have been getting hit hard, and I think it is important for people in other parts of the country to understand how.
Most of us here in the West are struggling through the worst drought in a century. It’s hotter, too. When crops are hit with extreme heat, they don’t grow as fast.
That affects food yield. In other words, if I have a contract for 15,000 bales of alfalfa, that contract assumes those bales will contain Premium grade alfalfa.
Lately, my normally Premium grade alfalfa is producing less than Premium food yield, which means I have to produce 18,000 bales to honor that 15,000 bale contract.
To compensate, our farm spends more on water and depends more on irrigation equipment (which can cost more than $1,000 per acre to install).
While the hot weather hurts, it doesn’t hurt quite as much the extreme weather.
A hot summer may stunt your growth, but a late spring or early fall freeze can shorten your season altogether.
Instead of getting four cuttings of alfalfa, you can walk away with three.
And when our farms produce half as much, ranchers have to sell their herds.
During the past few years, ranchers facing heat and drought, or unable to afford feed, have sent their cattle to market in record numbers.
We used to have more than 100 million head of cattle in America. Now, we have a little more than 80 million. Herds haven’t been this small since the early 1950s.
As we debate how to respond to this new, severe weather, I hope the rest of America will understand just how vulnerable our farms can be.
Too much rain in the spring? Crops go in late. Too little rain in the summer? Yields drop. And an unseasonable frost in spring or fall can end your season outright.
While farmers across the United States invest more in irrigation, change the crops they plant and stop planting in their higher risk fields, we need our governors and state legislatures to work with Washington.
Earlier this month, the EPA proposed standards to reduce the amount of carbon our power plants can emit. If we work together, we can find ways to manage the transition and keep costs low.
I encourage you to take a look at Risky Business and pay particular attention to what they say about farming. You don’t have to be a farmer to depend on one.
-- Jake Braken, Green River Companies Alfalfa Farm