MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- A former U.S. congressman joined with area farmers Monday to call on state and federal officials to better address the issue of climate change, which they say has a significant impact on Tennessee agriculture.
“When we look at all the cost involved in being able to maintain farmers who will be producing food that we eat, if climate change continues, there’s some belief that by the middle of this century it will be virtually impossible for them to stay in business and … operate properly,” said Lincoln Davis, a former Democratic representative for the 4th Congressional District, at Batey Farms in Rutherford County.
Davis, who runs a beef cattle operation with his brother in Fentress and Pickett counties, served in the House from 2003 until he was unseated by Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Desjarlais in 2010.
“When you talk about agriculture, that’s what keeps us alive – food production and clean water. Without either of those, the population of this earth would not be surviving,” said Davis, who also served in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly.
The costs of production for farming, when coupled with crop failure in a bad growing season, can drive new farmers out of business, Davis said.
And weather fluctuation, caused by climate change, impacts the quality of the growing season the most, he added.
This is a view that Batey Farms co-owner Brandon Whitt shares.
“Every business has to stay productive, and at the end of the year, you have to make more money than you spend,” Whitt said. “If you continue to keep losing money year in and year out, you look at a 200-year-old farm, even though this farm has long been paid for it can only withstand so many droughts and misfortunes like it had last year.”
According to Whitt, due the previous year’s weather conditions, the farm only produced about six bushels of corn per acre over their 770 acres, at a rate of about $7 per bushel, but their cost of production for corn was $483 per acre.
“If you look at this growing (season), it’s been a good growing season,” Davis said. “It wasn’t last year. That in itself should prove that there’s something happening with our climate. Why would we have a year later a totally different growing season than we had last year? … If that’s not climate change, you tell me what is.”
For solutions to the climate problem, Whitt suggested other industries consider things that the agriculture industry has done to reduce its “carbon footprint” and boost efficiency.
“I think it’s very important for other industries to look at agriculture as a leader,” Whitt said. “I mean, first and foremost, if we don’t have the land cared for, the water cared for, we’re going to be out of business.”
Scott and Brooke Brown, owners of Brown Dirt Farmers, a two-person farming operation in Sequatchie County, self-described as a “backyard garden times a thousand,” also talked about how they work to keep their emissions low.
“As a farm we try as much as possible to reduce (our) carbon footprint as much as sequestering carbon in the form of compost. We reduce organic waste into dirt, and then we put that back onto the land and then we grow food out of it,” Scott Brown said. “It’s a different sort of thinking of agriculture, but it works, and we hope that more people will see how easy it is to grow food, and that as individuals we can all contribute to a better climate.”
For political solutions, Davis said that he thinks some members of Congress should consider the “reality” of climate change – that burning fossil fuels is contributing to the problem, and that the nation should consider better forms of energy or more “sequestration” of carbon off-put if coal use is continued.
However, he said coal and energy producers in the Southeast claim they don’t get enough recognition for reducing emissions to the levels they’re currently at.
The Environmental Protection Agency, and the federal government should acknowledge that the industry has reduced emissions to a lower level than past years, said Georgia State Rep. Chuck Martin at a regional conference in September held by the Consumer Energy Alliance in Nashville, which covered the recently announced regulations on newly built coal-fired power plants.
“Today, we’ve got back to where we were in 1993, (to that) level of greenhouse gas and carbon emissions,” Davis said. “It exploded through the 90s, up until the early part of this century. Because of conservation and actual concern for (the environment)… we’re actually producing less carbon emissions today through TVA than we did 20 years ago.”
Davis said that although emissions had been reduced a significant amount, it’s not something that many people are aware of. However, he added that emissions had not been reduced to the levels necessary to make a difference, and that more should be done to address climate change.
“We’re the world’s leader. We’re not the biggest polluters, China is, but we’re the leader,” Davis said. “If anyone has a problem, call 9-1-1 USA, we go fix it for them. Everything that you buy today, the value of any place in the world is based on what the American dollar would buy. We have a responsibility as being that leader, and as a democracy, to be in the lead on these issues, on climate change.”