John Naisbitt, in his 1982 hit book "Megatrends," relied heavily on newspapers to predict major shifts in America and beyond. That might not be possible today, given the changes in media, but the megatrends approach still works if you harvest enough information from credible sources.
After attending several national and regional gatherings dealing with agriculture and private lands conservation recently, I see some interesting trends emerging.
Perhaps most significantly, agriculture seems to be embracing the need to address climate change. Some still dance around the words “climate change” and its causes, but most accept that we are now subject to regular and dramatic weather events, ranging from drought and floods to violent storms. The word “resilience” comes up more and more at these meetings, as in, “How can we ensure that our farming systems are resilient enough to withstand weather extremes?”
It’s more proof that while some people stonewall on climate change for mostly ideological reasons, those who are dealing with it on a regular basis are taking it seriously. Perhaps no other sectors are more important to national security than the Department of Defense and agriculture. Both aren’t messing around with this new normal.
In agriculture, it means using a combination of new farming techniques and a suite of conservation practices to keep soil loss to a minimum and prevent dramatic runoff events. Nationally, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has introduced a Soil Health Initiative that addresses both short-term profitability and long-term resilience. Even in the face of cuts to national conservation programs, this is encouraging. Soil health focuses on steps farmers can take without necessarily participating in traditional conservation programs.
The recognition that climatic events are affecting large landscapes goes beyond farm country and into the Western forests. Most experts point out that the combination of drought and rising temperatures is resulting in fires much larger and hotter than in the past. This, too, is the new normal. The situation is made worse by insufficient forest management on millions of acres of federal lands, leading to overstocked stands susceptible to insect depredation. Due to warming, the life cycle of pine beetles in the West has gone from two years to one. More beetles equals more predation and more tinderbox forests.
A political trend is also worth noting. The farm bill, far from perfect but generally recognized as necessary to protect the public good, has stalled, primarily due to the tea party wing in the U.S. House. Farmers in traditionally conservative states know this and they’re not happy.
While the Senate has passed a farm bill that would cut expenditures on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which supports food stamps and other nutrition programs for low-income folks, the House has stonewalled. The House would separate SNAP from the farm bill. If the impasse continues, SNAP will be extended in its present form. That means the so-called fiscal conservatives in the House will have preserved the program at current funding levels, and the Senate version that reduces funding will be tossed out. How’s that for convoluted logic?