Hard to Define, But Easy to Recognize
If you want to start an interesting discussion on social media, just put out a press release or flyer about a seminar discussing the economic benefits of climate smart agriculture.
I know this from experience. A couple of years ago I was part of a group that hosted the “Economics of Adaptation” seminar in Enid Oklahoma. This event was designed to provide information to agriculture producers about how strategies designed to help farmers and ranchers deal with extreme weather events likes droughts, floods and wildfires can also help them save money and increase profits. Our speakers ranged from professors at Oklahoma State and Kansas State University to soil health specialists from state conservation agencies. The subjects they talked about covered such “controversial” practices as no-till, grazing cover crops after winter wheat, patch burning and multi-species (think running goats with cows to control invasive plants) grazing.
Really seditious stuff… Still, you would be surprised at some of the responses that came from some individuals concerning what they thought we were talking about when we mentioned “climate smart agriculture.” It seems that for many folks, preconceived notions can get in the way of understanding what people really mean when they bring up farming and ranching practices designed to help adapt to our changing climate … and in all honesty, I can see why.
Climate smart agriculture can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. When I’m asked to define climate smart agriculture, I often fall back on the famous line about pornography used by Supreme Court
SEE SOUTHERN PLAINS, PAGE A6 Justice Potter Stewart – “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”
Here are some examples … Is notill farming considered climate smart ag? Yes. Is minimum-till also climate smart ag? Yes. Would managed grazing be considered a climate smart practice? I would say of course. I also would say that simply having a grazing plan is also a climate smart practice. Would more extensive investments like a manure digester on a feedlot or dairy fall under the banner of climate smart ag? Sure. Would genetics that improve feed efficiency in livestock or that improve drought tolerance in crops count? Yep. So would cover crop planting (and grazing), double cropping, crop rotation, sun shades and windbreaks for animals, cooling ponds for milk cows, solar powered water pumps, drought management plans, improved irrigation systems, prescribed fire on rangeland and pastures and on and on and on.
The bottom line is that more often than not everybody in farming and ranching can find something they agree with when you start talking about dealing with climate change. We shouldn’t let our preconceived notions or our personal biases get in the way of taking a long hard look at what we can do to help better prepare for extreme weather and whether or not we can increase profits when we do it … because at the end of the day the same practices that help us better withstand droughts and floods, control soil erosion, and reduce plant and animal stress are, more often than not, the same practices that can reduce fuel and fertilizer costs, maintain and improve yields and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate smart agriculture is not some crazy plot. It’s basic natural resource conservation and it can save you money. At the end of the day, it makes good sense.
— Clay Pope is on outreach contractor with the USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of USDA or the Southern Plains Climate Hub. You can read more by Clay and listen to his podcast at https://southernplainsperspective. wordpress.com/ or by going to the USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub website.