How a field trip to the farm helped me learn more about climate change
James Hoorman, a soil expert with NRCS, believes improving soil health needs to be part of the solution for reducing phosphorus runoff. Jon Stinchcomb/News Herald
I always loved spending time on a farm. I never lived on one, but just being on a farm always gave me a grounded feeling, like being home. I wonder, half-jokingly, was I a farmer in a previous life? Does this affinity come innately to me as a native Wisconsinite because of our rich heritage of agricultural traditions?
I was thrilled and honored to spend a day visiting farms in our area with several other people during a Save the Bay Field Day, hosted by Rep. Mike Gallagher. The weather was cool and overcast, with just a few sprinkles of rain. We were glad we didn’t have the 90 degree temperatures we had during Memorial Day weekend.
Save the Bay is a wonderful collaboration of several partner organizations and farms in our area working together to demonstrate how sustainable farming can promote cleaner waterways and groundwater and reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticides, while bringing higher yields.
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As one example, we learned how planting cover crops protects soil against the erosive effects of strong winds and heavier rainfalls. They also help prevent runoff of nutrients into surface and groundwater supplies. Farmers can manage water better during drought conditions by utilizing cover crops. Among other things, cover crops are very good for wildlife, grazing livestock and our threatened pollinators. They can help manage the changes we’re starting to see in our environment.
After a little more research, I also learned that cover crops provide a way to sequester carbon; they suck up tons of carbon from the air, reducing levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that we know is trapping more heat at the planet’s surface. This idea of lowering of CO2 levels is important because the substantial reduction of greenhouse gases will lessen the severity of the consequences of climate change.
As a volunteer in the bipartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), I know that greenhouse gases are caused by burning of fossil fuels. I also know that climate change is already affecting us and our region’s water resources, so it’s encouraging to know that work is being done to help deal with some of the effects of climate change, such as heavier rainfalls, flooding and farm runoff.
However, in addition to these adaptation techniques, we also need a large-scale mitigation response to slow the rate of future climate change. CCL’s carbon fee and dividend policy would provide this solution and have the added bonus of moving us faster toward clean energy sources like solar and wind.
I am proud that Rep. Gallagher is part of the 78-member Climate Solutions Caucus, which includes 39 Republicans and 39 Democrats. While exploring “policy options that address impacts, causes and challenges of our changing climate,” various members have taken individual and collective steps to raise the profile of the climate issue in Congress and have begun to explore legislative solutions, like a carbon fee and dividend.
I encourage Rep. Gallagher, and all of our elected officials, to focus on both adaptation and mitigation in climate change. We need to find ways to reduce emissions instead of just dealing with their effects on our environment.
So my “field” trip to the farm was very enlightening; it taught me that some agricultural methods can help us deal with environmental changes. It led me to better understand that we must also do more to mitigate climate change by addressing the cause, excess greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
And I also discovered something fun: I still love being on a farm. My realization happened just in time, as all of our local Breakfasts on the Farm are starting soon!
Jill Mitchler is an Appleton resident. She can be reached at email@example.com.