The @USDA Didn’t Publish Its Plan to Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change. Here’s Where They Need it the Most — Mother Jones #ActOnClimate

Ogallala Aquifer. This map shows changes in Ogallala water levels from the period before the aquifer was tapped to 2015. Declining levels appear in red and orange, and rising levels appear in shades of blue. The darker the color, the greater the change. Gray indicates no significant change. Although water levels have actually risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, water levels are mostly in decline, namely from Kansas southward. Image credit: Nation Climate Assessment 2018

From Mother Jones (Tom Philpott):

Three ecological disasters that are worthy of hair-on-fire attention by USDA researchers.

The Trump administration’s department of agriculture has apparently settled on its strategy for preparing the food system for an uncertain future: ignore climate change.

This wasn’t always the agency’s tactic. Back in 2017, as Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich recently reported, the USDA was set to release a big plan on how to “help the agriculture industry understand and adapt to climate change.” But “top officials chose not to release the report, and told staff it should be kept for internal use only,” Bottemiller Evich wrote. Weeks before, Bottemiller Evich reported about how the USDA’s top decision makers have systematically “refused to publicize” its own scientists’ research on the impact of climate change on farming.

In the meantime, farmers have already started to feel that impact. A disastrously wet spring in the Midwestern farm belt—consistent with the types of storms that are expected to become more prevalent—delayed planting by weeks and led to the loss of millions of tons of soil. As a result, a huge swath of the US corn and soybean crops are in “poor or very poor condition,” American Farm Bureau Federation economist John Newton told the trade journal Brownfield last week. He says the 2019 harvest is shaping up the be the worst since 2012. That year, a historic drought, combined with hotter-than-normal temperatures, slashed yields in key corn growing states like Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri.

A 2018 report called the Fourth National Climate Assessment confirms that climate change is already having a dramatic impact on farms, and is only getting started. The National Climate Assessment is a collaboration among 13 federal agencies that was mandated by Congress back in 1990 and is obliged to deliver reports every four years, so the the Trump administration could not squash the release outright. Instead, it made a brave effort to to bury the assessment, literally releasing it without fanfare on the Friday after Thanksgiving…

Fruit and vegetable farms get parched. California farms are American’s main source for a roster of the foods we’re always being urged to eat more of: Altogether, they churn out more than a third of vegetables and two-thirds of both fruits and nuts grown in the country…

The corn belt gets deluged. The Midwest’s brutal spring may have been less an anomaly than the shape of things to come, the Fourth National Climate Assessment suggests. And that’s bad news for farmers in the region that supplies the food system with the corn and soybeans that drive meat production and provide cheap sweetener and fats for processed food…

The breadbasket withers. While the Midwest struggles with an overabundance of rain, especially in the spring, the much more arid Great Plains region just to the west has the opposite problem. A large swath of the area, from the Kansas-Colorado border to the Texas panhandle, sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, a kind of vast underground lake that supplies irrigation for the “most productive farm belts in the world,” the climate assessment reports. The region’s farms produce $35 billion worth of goods annually, including “one-fifth of the Nation’s wheat, corn, and cotton, and the southern half of the region accounts for more than one-third of the beef cattle production.”

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