When you work on climate change issues and agriculture, you never know what you’re going to get hit with when you go to the coffee shop.
Just the other day, I was at a gathering of some of my fellow agricultural types and was hit with this pointed question: “Why in the world should we be worried about all this climate change stuff with everything else going on? Have you priced fertilizer or fuel lately? I don’t even know if I can get glyphosate.”
Points well taken.
Gas prices alone have gone up over 50% from this time last year. Diesel has seen a similar increase. Fertilizer prices aren’t any better. A recent Texas A&M study found that the cost of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilizers more than doubled between 2020 and 2021. Nitrogen, which accounts for more than 50% of the commercial fertilizer farmers use, is expected to see price increases in 2022 of more than 80% from the previous year.
No doubt farmers and ranchers have a lot of unexpected challenges right now. We were already seeing challenges with inputs resulting from the aftermath of the COVID pandemic before international markets got turned on their ear by the war in Ukraine. It’s easy to see why folks could take the position that they have more important things to deal with than climate change… but they would be looking at this all wrong.
You probably have already heard what is on the horizon when it comes to droughts, floods and other nasty weather events. You also probably have seen or heard about how climate-smart farming practices like no-till, cover crops and better pasture management can help you increase your soil’s water holding capacity, control run-off and erosion, and better position you to deal with these challenges.
These same soil health practices that help agriculture adapt to climate change, reduce soil erosion, protect water quality and reduce greenhouse gasses can also help us reduce fuel and fertilizer costs.
Studies have shown that by converting to no-till, you can greatly reduce fuel use when growing crops, in many cases by as much as 4 gallons of diesel per acre per year. Other sources have reported that by using soil health practices, you can reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer. A 2017 study showed that the use of these practices reduced fertilizer costs by as much as $50 per acre (and think how the price of fertilizer has gone up since then!).
The same practices that protect our natural resources and prepare us for climate change are more often than not the same things that control input costs. Climate change action and addressing economic concerns are not mutually exclusive. Soil health and regenerative ag is the one place where protecting our natural resources and improving our bottom line go hand in hand.
We don’t have to choose between helping agriculture address climate change and helping producers with high input costs. When we do one, we do the other.