I’ve seen a lot of interesting, producer-focused stories this week from varied sources about how researchers and agriculture producers are pursuing climate smart agriculture (or soil health or sustainable agriculture or whatever — pick your term) and what they are learning. One theme seems to run through all of these stories: One size does not fit all when it comes to trying to make changes that help agriculture adapt to our changing climate.In one story Roy Pfaltzgraff, a farmer and rancher from North East Colorado, talked about how each farm is different and how each producer has a different reality. He said that, in his opinion, cookie-cutter approaches don’t work; neither does a hide-bound allegiance to one set of specific practices or another.
“You can’t do what I’ve done on my operation to get success, and I can’t copy you likewise, but we can learn individual lessons from each other. I do believe in a living root, but I don’t believe in cover crops as a religion.” Pfaltzgraff said.In a similar vein, an article that I came across just today told the story of Loran Steinlage, an West Union Iowa agriculture producer and 2020 No-Till Innovator Award Recipient, who drastically changed his operation and mindset when his son Roland nearly died 15 years ago from brain cancer. Flexibility, experimentation and a willingness to share what he had learned with others have become hallmarks of his approach to agriculture.In the story, he is quoted as saying, “I don’t have a clue what our actual rotation is this year yet,” Steinlage says in early February. “It’s going to flex as we see spring unfold. We’re constantly adjusting.” What all this says to me is that we have to realize that a “you do ‘x’ and ‘y’ will result” approach to farming and ranching really doesn’t apply when it comes to trying to adapt agriculture operations to climate change. What works on my place may not work on yours and vice versa. I wrote about how climate smart agriculture can mean many things to many people in an earlier blog. There are many options you can look at. The trick is to give it some thought and understand that there is no one answer that works everywhere.USDA has a breakdown of some of their recommended approaches to climate smart agriculture here. There also is some good information on the overall approach USDA is taking to climate change adaptation here, and you can go to the USDA Agriculture Research Service website to check out what research USDA has going on in the area of extreme weather resiliency.Weather in this part of the world has always been extremely variable. Will Rogers once said, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute.” This is true now more than ever with the vagaries of a changing climate.Adaptation requires flexibility and a little willingness for trial and error. It also requires an understanding that everyone is not in the same place, geographically, socially or financially. Don’t get caught up in dogma when it comes to preparing your farm and ranch to the challenges of climate change. Remember that help is available from your local USDA Service Center and more information is available from their partners like cooperative extension.President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” I think the same holds true for climate smart agriculture.
Clay Pope is a farmer and rancher from Loyal, Okla., and is working as a consultant to the USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub. He also serves on as a board member of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Assn. He is former executive director of the Oklahoma Assn. of Conservation Districts.
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