Over the past decade, Solutions from the Land (SfL) has been proactively communicating the risk that climate change and extreme weather events pose for agriculture. Throughout this period, there sadly have been too many events that validate and confirm the existential threat that these conditions create, not just for U.S. agriculture, but for the agriculture sector across the globe.
The latest calling card arrived here in the United States last week in the form of Hurricane Ian, which crashed into southwest Florida with wind gusts topping 150 mph and rainfall in some areas exceeding 20 inches. From there, this monster storm cut a path northeast across the heart of the state’s citrus, fruit, vegetable and beef production regions, leaving flooded fields, downed trees and damaged or demolished buildings and barns in its wake.
With storms that develop as quickly and grow in intensity as Ian did, no amount of preparedness planning and fortification can provide absolute protection from harm. But every step that producers take to improve resilience and mitigate impacts helps.
This is why SfL has prioritized and invested so much time and energy on this global challenge and why we have been focusing our efforts, first and foremost, on helping producers adopt climate smart agriculture systems and practices. Make no mistake- climate change is real, is happening before our eyes and no amount of political maneuvering can alter its reality. Just ask Jim Strickland, a nationally recognized Florida conservation rancher and Co-Chair of the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group (FLCSA), what it was like to ride out this massive storm. As we post this blog, Jim and his fellow producers across the state, are still assessing damage, clearing debris fields, rounding up cattle, burying dead animals, repairing fences, opening waterways and just trying to figure out how to move forward. For many it means not just replanting crops, but literally starting over or transforming their operations into some other form of food, feed or fiber production.
While the national media has done a good job of showing impact that Ian had on coastal communities like Fort Meyers Beach and Sanibel Island, which were virtually annihilated by the hurricane, they have hardly covered the physical damage and economic loss being experienced by Florida’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners. Their pain and suffering are every bit as real, although it has yet to be quantified. Our partners at University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, are currently taking stock of conditions and running models to estimate economic losses. While their final numbers won’t be available for several week, most of the experts we have spoken to project that Ian will go down in the state’s record books as causing more economic harm and loss of life in history.
Whether it is larger, more intense, and slower moving storms like Ian; derechos that cross the Midwest to the east coast in mere hours; heat waves across Europe that indiscriminately kill thousands; crippling drought that has reduced the water storage capacity of western U.S. reservoirs below the 25% level; or flooding that has inundated vast expanses of Pakistan’s agricultural heartland; climate change portends a future we must come to grips with sooner rather than later.
Informed by being on the front lines of climate change, SfL leaders will be in Rome next week for the 50th annual meeting of FAO’s Committee on Food Security, where we will host a side event with producers from across the world who will talk about what they need to become more climate smart. Three weeks later we’ll be in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt for the UNFCCC COP 27, where we will be holding multiple events where producers will tell government, business, and civil society representatives what they need to sustainably intensify production, improve resilience and reduce or sequester greenhouse gas emissions.
No two landscapes are alike and there is no cookie cutter solution to climate change. But the process to becoming climate smart follows a similar path which begins with an honest assessment of a regions or state’s vulnerabilities, followed by a farmer-led exploration of adaption strategies to increase resistance, improve resilience and actions to transform operations to ensure sustainability and economic viability going forward. Agriculture has battled the elements since millennia, but things have changed, and nature has the upper hand. In addressing these latest challenges, the agriculture sector needs to quicken the pace and expand collective efforts to become more climate smart. If you have any doubts, just look to our friends and colleagues in Florida, who soldier on during what is Florida’s official 2022 Climate Week. How ironic and perhaps catalytic is that. Time will tell. Until then, our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the farm, ranch and forestry families who provide much of the year-round food, feed and fiber we consume as a nation. Godspeed to them all and best wishes for a full recovery.