Climate, good and bad, has always affected farming. There’s no way around it, and farmers have come to live with the ups and downs that accompany an occupation so influenced by the whims of nature.
But farmers’ exposure to unpredictable weather also makes them an excellent bellwether for climate change.
And a new global survey shows they are squarely in its sights.
Earlier this year, 800 farmers representing farms large and small from Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Kenya, Ukraine and the United States were polled about climate change, by an agency representing the multinational company Bayer.
Most of them reported that climate change already has a big impact on their farm. It’s not something in the future. It’s here.
For example, farmers estimate that on average their incomes dropped by about 15 per cent in the past two years because of climate change.
One in six farmers even identified income losses of over 25 per cent during this period.
Further, three-quarters of farmers have experienced more insect and pest pressure.
So no wonder most of them are worried about the impact that climate change will have on their farm in the future – especially farmers in Kenya and India, with some of the most extreme weather at the best of times, being worried the most.
What’s Bayer say about all this?
Rodrigo Santos, president of Bayer’s crop science division, says farmers are punching back.
“Farmers are already experiencing the adverse effects of climate change on their fields and at the same time they play a key role in tackling this huge challenge,” he says. “This is why it is so important to put their voice front and center. The losses reported in this survey make the direct threat climate change poses to global food security crystal clear. In the face of a growing world population, the results must be a catalyst for efforts to make agriculture regenerative.”
Ah, regenerative agriculture. It’s a term that the industry has seized on to describe the practices and programs that help maintain the natural resources used in farming. It thinks regenerative agriculture reverberates with the public.
Certainly, sustainability activities have public cache. But I don’t think regenerative is the go-to term, and neither do farmers. In fact, the farm publication Farm Journal conducted online surveys this fall asking nearly 250 producers what term they like the most.
Conservation agriculture come out on top at 46 per cent. Regenerative agriculture was down at 13 per cent. Only one per cent liked carbon negative or carbon neutral agriculture, even though (or because) it’s a popular term with governments.
Back to climate pressure. Bayer’s Santos says one thing that hasn’t changed in agriculture is farmer optimism. “We found that farmers are hopeful,” says Santos. “Almost three-quarters say they feel positive about the future of farming in their country. This is impressive and encouraging.”
Indeed, it’s welcome news…but surprising, given how independent research has found farmer stress is raging and farmers’ mental health is strained.
And to me, these climate change poll results show that farmers will have to deal with yet another stress.