Imagine if these farmers lived in Australia!
When Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was asked this past week by White House reporters whether the drought was caused by climate change, or if preventive measures could have been taken to ease the effects, the agriculture secretary sought to shift the focus back to the here and now.
"I’m not a scientist so I’m not going to opine as to the cause of this," Vilsack said Wednesday. "All we know is that right now there are a lot of farmers and ranchers who are struggling.
And it’s important and necessary for them to know, rather than trying to focus on what’s causing this, what can we do to help them."
Some people suggested that the agriculture secretary "punted" on the topic. Yes, he did. But if Vilsack were to offer the White House press corps a definitive declaration that, yes, this is a climate disaster, it would not have changed the actual effects of the drought in the countryside.
More likely, it would only have prompted a senator or two to find their own television cameras and denounce the administration for using a weather disaster to promote an alarmist global-warming agenda.
But this year spotlights just how quickly the weather dynamics can change in agriculture. Within a two-month span, USDA dropped national yield estimates by 20 bushels an acre, a projection the market still believes is overly optimistic.
The photos of pathetic-looking corn ears come from almost all regions of the Corn Belt. In a nation that loves its hamburgers and steaks, our cattle herd is now the smallest in four decades, partially due to two years of drought in major livestock-producing states.
Vilsack is correct in that we have to deal with the crisis of the moment rather than draw linkages as to why this widespread weather event occurred.
Yet, we've had time to examine the issues. We just failed to try. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have spent the last two-plus years crafting their $500-billion pieces of "food, farm and jobs" legislation specifically to address the nation's food-supply and agricultural policy needs for the next five years.
Nowhere in the House or Senate bills are you going to find provisions seeking to address the effects of climate change on agriculture.
The farm bills were written with the understanding that farmers have always dealt with weather challenges and will continue to do so. Both versions instead let farmers know they will need to better assess their own risks largely by choosing the best crop-insurance program for their operation.
Farmers themselves championed that approach.
Scientists who could offer some insight on climate change and agriculture are effectively persona non grata when writing farm policy.
Not one hearing was held by either the House or Senate Ag Committees on the potential impacts of climate change on the food supply, livestock, soil erosion, water sustainability or outright costs to consumers and taxpayers in responding to increasingly more expensive agricultural disasters.
Rather than consider any preventive medicine that would translate into a direct budget item in the farm bill, lawmakers have consciously opted to ensure the costs of climate change to agriculture stay on the back end through more expensive disaster payments in the form of crop insurance indemnities.
As Iowa State University economist Bruce Babcock pointed out this week, the contract between crop insurers and the federal government ensures and the cost of crop disaster rises, the federal Treasury picks up a higher percentage of the tab.
Crop insurance last year paid out a $10 billion indemnity. We understand this year is expected to blow away that number.
USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber suggested a $20 billion cost this week. As the drought progresses, we'll get a much better assessment of the drought's costs to the overall food supply and economy...
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.