Farmers in Ohio may not be facing extreme drought conditions like their counterparts in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, but record high temperatures and little rain still caused plenty of headaches in the state this summer.
Corn yields in the state are expected to fall 29 percent this year. In some areas of the state, farmers are seeing yields up to 60 percent below last year. And some believe those losses, caused by the recent rash of usually hot, dry weather, has raised awareness of climate change among traditionally skeptical farmers in Ohio.
“I really do think that there are farmers that are being converted by the drought,” said Joe Logan, who owns a 300-acre corn, soy and livestock farm in Northeast Ohio. “I think farmers see the changes in precipitation patterns – not just this year, but over time – and make the connection. And I do think the drought moved the needle some more.”
Logan, who is also director of agricultural programs at the Ohio Environmental Council, isn’t quite sure how far the needle has moved – or if it will have any political influence. Like in many other states around the country, policymakers have been silent – if not downright hostile – on the issue of climate change.
However, there are small signs that the issue is still simmering in people’s minds. In April, Ohio’s Republican Governor told a group of political donors that he was breaking with his party, saying “there is a problem” with our climate. “This [view] isn’t popular,” he bluntly noted.
But that still doesn’t change the problem in Logan’s mind: Political leaders, heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industry, are spreading disinformation and ignoring serious environmental problems facing farmers.
“So many policymakers have hit a tipping point, moving into the ridiculous,” he said, referencing West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who shot a copy of the 2010 climate bill with his rifle. “They ought to be ashamed.”
Roger Wise, president of the Ohio Farmer’s Union, agrees about the ridiculousness of the manufactured “debate” and agrees that farmers are noticing changes. But he isn’t as optimistic about how people in Ohio’s agricultural community are reacting to them.
“I don’t think there’s any question that farmers see a change. We can see it,” said Wise, who owns an 800-acre no-till corn, soybean and wheat farm in northern Ohio. “But it’s tough to change the paradigm. I live in a conservative part of the state and I see how skeptical people still are.”
Whether or not farmers make the connection that humans are changing the climate, their observations about increasing extreme weather are accurate. According to an analysis of extreme precipitation events throughout the Midwest, Ohio has seen a 40 percent increase in storms dumping three or more inches of rain within 24 hours over the last 50 years.
Scientists also believe that increasing temperatures could drop yearly corn and soybean yields in the U.S. by 20-30 percent over the coming four decades and up to 90 percent by the end of the century.
But even as Ohio farmers face the consequences of climate change, large special interests wage an ongoing disinformation campaign in the state. The problem, both these farmers believe, is that two of the state’s most influential lobbies – the farm bureau and the coal industry – continue to raise doubts in the political sphere.
The Ohio Farm Bureau has staunchly opposed a federal comprehensive climate bill and Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. And the Ohio coal industry, which accounted for 78 percent of Ohio’s electricity in 2011, is also spreading disinformation and protecting its interests by fighting any law or regulation that would put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
“The farm bureau and the coal industry are the 800 pound gorillas in the room,” said Logan. “But they’re up against another 800 pound gorilla – and that is a changing climate that is staring us square in the face.”
However, just as we see throughout much of the country, the science has taken a back seat to special interests.
“The reality is, the political climate is not ready,” said Wise from the Ohio Farmer’s Union.
So would getting more farmers on board change the paradigm in Ohio and spur change? Agriculture represents a major portion of Ohio’s economy — roughly one in seven people is either directly or indirectly employed in the sector, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Logan believes that getting more farmers to speak up could help influence policy in a positive way.
“If what we see this year is any legitimate indication of what we’re likely to see in the future, then yes, we will see more farmers speaking up. If we have another summer like this we’re going to have people banging on the door saying we have to act. I do think the farm population is coming to a change of heart and that we’re going to get more movement on the need to do something,” said Logan.