Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Farmers tell Democrats how climate change affects crops

Henry Waxman

Kitty Felde/KPCC

LA Democrat Henry Waxman, right, says his task force is looking at climate change "in the context of what it means every day in the lives of different Americans as they face severe weather changes."

American farmers are experiencing climate change in their fields. That was the message delivered to a group of Democrat lawmakers Thursday in Washington. Consequently, drought in the Midwest is affecting California's dairy farmers — and parents looking for a reasonably priced gallon of milk.

Democrats frustrated with the lack of Congressional action on global warming are trying a new tactic: focusing on how climate change is affecting Americans in various ways. The bicameral Task Force on Climate Change has in the past examined the growing threat of wildfires, and also profiled clean energy companies and their effect on the U.S. economy.

Now, the group of Senate and House Democrats is hearing from representatives of America’s agricultural industry. The task force chairman  is L.A. Congressman Henry Waxman, who — as the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee — was the architect of the climate change bill passed by the then-Democratic led House three years ago. Waxman said the task force is exploring the issue "in the context of what it means every day in the lives of different Americans as they face severe weather changes, whether it’s drought or flooding."

Farmers were happy to tell their stories. Rick Tolman, head of the National Corn Growers Association, said last year was the “worst drought in modern history.” That was followed by an unusually wet spring. Farmers who waited as late as June to plant were flooded out and had to plant again. “So that means higher costs in seed, fertilizer, fuel,” Tolman said. He added farmers are currently facing another severe drought.

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said some of his members are dairy farmers in California. Severe weather in the Midwest makes it more expensive to produce milk. "Where do the higher feed costs come from?" he asked. "As a result of a record drought, you have short supplies, you have costs going up."

Farmers want a more “robust” crop insurance program from Washington to cope with weather-related losses. And they want federal investment in research. For example, Tolman said there is drought-tolerant corn seed becoming available next year, "which allows them to be able to grow more corn in adverse weather conditions."

What farmers don’t want is more regulation, including a cap or tax on carbon emissions.  

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