“Industrial Agriculture, an Extraction Industry Like Fossil Fuels, a Growing Driver of Climate Change Industrial farming encourages practices that degrade the soil and increase emissions, while leaving farmers more vulnerable to damage as the planet warms.
By Georgina Gustin JAN 25, 2019
“On his farm in southwestern Iowa, Seth Watkins plants several different crops and raises cattle. He controls erosion and water pollution by leaving some land permanently covered in native grass. He grazes his cattle on pasture, and he sows cover crops to hold the fertile soil in place during the harsh Midwestern winters.
“Watkins’ farm is a patchwork of diversity—and his fields mark it as an outlier. His practices don’t sound radical, but Watkins is a bit of a renegade. He’s among a small contingent of farmers in the region who are holding out against a decades-long trend of consolidation and expansion in American agriculture.
“Watkins does this in part because he farms with climate change in mind.
“I can see the impact of the changing climate,” he said. “I know, in the immediate, I’ve got to manage the issue. In the long term, it means doing something to slow down the problem.”
“But for several decades, ever-bigger and less-varied farms have overtaken diversified operations like his, replacing them with industrialized row crops or gigantic impoundments of cattle, hogs and chickens.
“This trend is a central reason why American agriculture has failed to deal with climate change, a crisis that has been made worse by large-scale farming practices even as it afflicts farmers themselves.
“Consolidation has swallowed smaller farms, bolstering a financial and regulatory status quo that has thwarted the kind of climate-friendly approach Watkins and his fellow outliers employ.
“I don’t think any of us wants to get bigger,” Watkins mused. “It’s just the curse of a commodity business. We made all the focus on production, and all the economics, the subsidies, are tied to production. We have a production-focused agriculture policy…”