The Midwest and South are going through one of the worst droughts in U.S. history. The statistics Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack cited about the damage the drought is doing to crops on July 18 during a press briefing are quite staggering.
A whopping total of† 78 percent of the corn crop in the U.S. is in an area designated as drought impacted. The soybean crop is also affected, with 77 percent of the soybeans grown in the U.S. impacted. A total of 38 percent of the corn crop and 30 percent of the soybeans†are rated poor to very poor. The yields will be down about 20 bushels to the acre for corn and about three bushels to the acre for soybeans.
When asked about climate change, Vilsack was not as forthright. In fact, he said, “Iím not a scientist, so Iím not going to opine as to the cause of this.” He added that the focus of the USDA is to help farmers and ranchers by lowering interest rates, and expanding access to grazing and haying opportunities, lowering penalties associated with that, and encouraging Congress to provide aid. “And thatís where our focus is.”
During an interview on Marketplace Morning Report the day after the press briefing, Vilsack again refused to talk about the link between drought and climate change. When asked if the drought is caused by climate change, he answered, “Well, Iím not an expert on climate change so it probably wouldnít be appropriate for me to respond specifically to that question.”
The focus of the USDA and President Obama, Vilsack said, is on “making sure that we get help to these folks, making sure, for example, that people know that they got to contact their insurance agent, if they have crop insurance, that they may have a damaged crop so that they wonít lose rights under their policy.”
In other words, Vilsack, and by extension, Obama, refuse to talk about the link between the drought affecting a large portion of the U.S. and human-induced climate change. It makes little sense for Vilsack to not discuss the link. In a bit of irony, on the same day that Visack did the interview, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report that said 55 percent of the contiguous U.S. was under moderate to extreme drought in June. This is the largest land area in the country to be affected by a drought since December 1956.
In October 2010, a study the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) said in a report that warming temperatures associated with climate change will likely cause increasingly dry soil conditions in much of the world in the next 30 years.
“We are facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades, but this has yet to be fully recognized by both the public and the climate change research community,” author of the report, Aiguo Dai said. “If the projections in this study come even close to being realized, the consequences for society worldwide will be enormous.”
Tell Vilsack to do the right thing
It is time for Vilsack to provide U.S. farmers with all the facts they need to cope with the drought that is damaging their livelihoods. Sign the petition, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack: Farmers Need Facts On Climate Change and Drought.
Photo: Flickr user, NRCS California