Climate change, particularly the claim that it's caused primarily by human activity, may be the biggest controversy in modern agriculture.
So I took notice when Jochum Wiersma, a veteran small grains specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension, gave a presentation on what he called "climate weirdness" during a recent webinar sponsored by Minnesota and North Dakota ag groups. In his presentation, he said the climate in northwest Minnesota, where's he stationed, and in adjacent northeast North Dakota is changing and that farmers in the area need to study climate change.
The key takeaway from his talk: "This is not an easy topic. It's very controversial. Nonetheless, I think you want to start reading up on this and read through some of those reports. Farming is very much a strategic enterprise, and you need to look 10, 20 years down the road," he said.
Wiersma deserves credit for a fair amount of courage. Instead of discussing a safe subject like soil fertility, he tackled a tough one that he knew might bring him some heat. So, curious to learn what kind of reaction he received, I contacted Wiersma after his presentation.
He said response generally was positive. As is typically the case at farm conferences, attendees had a chance to fill out a post-presentation survey that evaluated his talk. Overall, survey respondents seemed to value the presentation, he said.
Wiersma told me that as a scientist serving farmers in this region, he thought it's important for him to study climate change data and then provide information to ag producers that might help them to better manage long-term risk.
My own position: A decade ago I thought that human activity had little, if anything, to do with climate change. But over time, as I learned more, it became increasingly clear that human activity is the primary culprit. The case may not be as strong as some outspoken climate-change advocates assert, but it's clear nonetheless.
Many Agweek readers disagree. Some maintain there's overwhelming evidence that human activity isn't responsible. But check carefully into that so-called evidence, including a petition supposedly signed by roughly 30,000 climate scientists. In fact, the 30,000 included only a small percentage of actual climate scientists. Most of the signers were scientists in other disciplines or people with bachelor's degrees in science who don't necessarily have careers in science. No doubt all the signers were smart, talented people, but that alone doesn't qualify them to make pronouncements on climate change.
What's more, the petition was launched in the 1990s, when the scientific evidence on climate change wasn't as strong as it is today.
Listen to the experts
Well, I'm definitely not a scientist, just a journalist. But I listen to the many people smarter and more knowledgeable than me. I took weed scientists seriously when they first warned about "Roundup resistance," or the growing resistance of weeds to the popular herbicide. I take agronomists seriously when they provide fertilizer and seed variety recommendations. And I take climate scientists seriously when the overwhelming majority say climate change is real and human activity is the primary cause.
To be clear: I don't care for sanctimonious lefties who denounce anyone disagreeing with their position on climate change. Their smug "We're-good-people-and-you're-bad-people" attitude grows tiresome.
But unpleasant messengers aren't always wrong. And, in this case, people who say human activity is the primary cause of climate change have sound science on their side.
So listen honestly and openly to what Wiersma said: Climate change is important. It's already influencing our crops and may have even more impact in the future. For the sake of your farming operations, take it seriously.