Contributor: Claire Kelloway
In Washington alone, the agricultural sector is worth $49 billion and employs nearly 160,000 people – roughly 13 percent of the state’s overall economy. But an increase in extreme weather exacerbated by climate change threatens this bedrock industry, and our food security. As a group with exceptional impact and reliance on the environment, farmers have unique motivation to act on climate change now.
I spoke with Kent Wright, President of the Northwest Farmer’s Union, the regional chapter of a national alliance advocating for the economic and social well-being of family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and their communities. He told me, “acting on climate change is a huge part of our mission. It’s one of our top three issues we’re currently looking into. Everyone that we serve, including rural communities, anticipate a serious disruption in [their] ability to earn a stable living … because of it.”
This comes on the heels of a record-breaking drought in Washington and the rest of the western United States. For 2015, Washington anticipated $1.2 billion in crop losses due to drought. While the agricultural community may disagree on the causes of climate change, Wright acknowledges that concerns about recent conditions are common.
“I don’t’ think anybody [is] going to say they’re not witnessing changes in rainfall … or highly volatile extreme weather,” Kent said. He believes “a large majority [of farmers] are thinking about [climate change] but they’re not vocally talking about it in public.”
As a sixth generation rancher, Wright draws on decades of ranching experience. He remembers “having completely different weather patterns growing up, and talking with grandparents about now and how the weather patterns may or may not be similar … it just seems like we’re not getting the moisture that we typically would have.”
Nationally, agriculture is the third largest source of greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined. Thus, in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change on agriculture, farmers and ranchers need to address their own reliance on fossil fuel. Kent said he sees “a lot of producers cutting emissions” and turning to alternative energy, “whether its solar or wind or other energy sources.” He also has noticed a resurgence in techniques like cover cropping and no-till that can prevent erosion, sequester carbon, and improve soil health by increasing organic matter. Kent believes these practices are “things that folks used to use in previous generations that we got away from with some of our advanced technology and now it’s coming full circle… we’re starting to understand the benefits with good science.”
In the end, Kent Wright believes Washington farmers, ranchers, and fishermen already stand with the Washington Business for Climate Action’s mission and recognize the importance of acting on climate change for a more resilient food system and economy for the future.