News

    Many US Farmers Skeptical About Climate Change

    As climate negotiators meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, many scientists say that farmers around the world will have to adjust to more extreme temperatures, droughts and floods as a result of global warming. But in the United States, the nation's largest farmers' organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation, opposes any strong actions to counter climate change, either in Copenhagen or in the U.S. Congress.

    Gwen Pitt
    Gwen Pitt

    Multimedia

    On a sunny afternoon in the southern U.S. state of North Carolina, Gwen Pitt is supervising the cotton harvest. As a large machine mashes the cotton into a solid brick a bit smaller than a train car, Pitt says her crop is destined for one of the world's most popular fashion items.

    "We have found out that most of our cotton here in eastern North Carolina goes to make jeans," she says.

    She says it takes a lot of fuel to grow and harvest all that cotton. The picking machine alone guzzles down nearly 400 liters of fuel per day. And while they're harvesting cotton in this field, they're planting wheat in fields nearby.

    Cotton ready for harvest
    Cotton ready for harvest

    "Tractors are always running," she says. "So we're always burning fuel."

    Opponents to Copenhagen deal fear higher expenses

    As climate negotiators meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, many scientists say that farmers around the world will have to adjust to more extreme temperatures, droughts and floods as a result of global warming. But in the United States, the nation's largest farmers' organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation, opposes any strong actions to counter climate change, either in Copenhagen or in the U.S. Congress.

    Pitt and many other U.S. farmers are concerned that measures to address climate change may make fuel more expensive. Those proposals seek to lower emissions of greenhouse gases by raising the cost of gasoline, coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels. And since natural gas is a major ingredient in fertilizer, the cost of this essential farm supply could go up, too.

    The Farm Bureau is lobbying Congress to reject a pending climate change bill. Bob Stallman, president of the bureau, says the extra costs will make it harder for farmers to stay in business.

    "Our margins are really thin, in terms of our bottom line, and any additional costs have to be absorbed by the farmer because we can't pass on those costs to consumers directly," he says.   

    Some climate skeptics question cause of warming

    Costs aside, you'll find a lot of basic skepticism at the Farm Bureau and among farmers like Gwen Pitt that human pollution is responsible for climate change. 

    Harvested cotton
    Harvested cotton

    Pitt says, "My feeling on climate change is, I don't know that what we do as Americans or as people is what's causing most of what's happening. I think nature has its own course."

    But other farmers disagree. The National Farmers Union, a smaller farmers' group, supports action on climate change. President Roger Johnson says the science is convincing. And he doesn't think a climate change bill would hurt farmers nearly as much as climate change will, through droughts, floods and other extreme weather.

    "All these different events are going to harm production. We know that," he says. "You want to talk about a cost increase? You put the whole crop in and you harvest nothing? I mean, I've seen that. I've been through that on my farm. The experts say you will see that with much increased frequency over time."

    By some calculations farmers face only minor cost hikes

    Johnson contends that the legislation Congress is considering would impose miniscule costs on farmers. He points to analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that calculates the proposed law would reduce farmers' incomes by about 1 percent in the short term, and about seven percent over coming decades.

    "I farmed most of my life," he says, "and I can point to any number of weeks when I saw more than a seven percent swing in my costs. For anyone who says a 1 percent increase or a seven percent increase 25 years from now is going to be the end of agriculture, I mean, it just defies the real world."

    The USDA analysis also concludes that the climate bill now before Congress gives farmers opportunities to more than offset their financial losses, although not all farmers may be able to take advantage of them.

    Johnson concludes that farmers can handle the costs of capping greenhouse gases, especially because the costs of doing nothing could be far worse.
     


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora