Abby Bauer

It always feels strange to talk about heat abatement strategies for livestock during the winter when much of the country is dealing with weather that creates problems opposite of what heat stress does. However, if consideration is given to heat mitigation early enough, farms have time to make adjustments for the warmer months that will eventually return.

Similarly, as I write this from our office in Wisconsin, a winter storm with snow, ice, wind, and bitterly cold temperatures is headed our way. And yet, global warming and climate change are on many people’s minds.

Of course, these are not new concerns. Buzzwords such as greenhouse gases and methane emissions have been circulating for years, and scientists attribute the global warming trend seen since the mid-1900s to humans’ contribution to the greenhouse effect.

While past attempts to put legislation into play to moderate climate change have been met with strong opposition, President Joe Biden has quickly pushed climate change mitigation to the forefront. The conversation has turned the corner from climate change to climate crisis, and the new administration has made it clear that legislation in this area is a top priority.

In discussions about global greenhouse emissions, the finger often gets pointed at agriculture. At times, food production’s contribution to the problem may be overestimated, while other culprits seem to get a pass. Meanwhile, there are people all across the level of concern spectrum, from individuals who fear the worst about global warming to those who question its existence.

Production agriculture is not optional; people around the world need food to eat. However, we can’t deny that cattle and crop production contribute to greenhouse emissions to some extent, and climate legislation is coming to agriculture, probably sooner rather than later.

Now is not the time to sit back and see where the chips fall, if agriculture wants a say in what this legislation looks like. That was the message that rang loud and clear during a panel discussion at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit held late last fall. The theme of that conversation was that farmers and others in agriculture need to lead this conversation; if not, the results will likely not be what we are hoping for. Read more about this discussion on page 8.

Several panelists stated that climate change legislation must be economically beneficial for farmers; they also emphasized the need for it to be voluntary. There seems to be agreement on that front by at least some lawmakers. In a media call, Senator Debbie Stabenow, who is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, shared a few details about the proposed climate bill she is endorsing. “What we are talking about is a system that is voluntary and producer led,” Stabenow said. “The Growing Climate Solutions Act creates a producer advisory committee to USDA, which is very important.”

To make sure climate legislation for agriculture is financially sustainable and voluntary, farmers need to be part of the planning process. Crop farmer Brandon Hunnicutt, who spoke during the panel discussion, said that we can either drive this train or be taken for a ride. With much at stake for not only this generation of farmers but also for generations to come, agriculture must find its seat at the table.

In the end, I think we can all agree that change is coming, and the end goal is a future that has the same plentiful resources we enjoy today. Let’s embrace the opportunities that are before us, work through the good and the bad, take control of what we can, and make 2021 the best it can be.

Until next time,