Covering Our Food System

The Agriculture Department established research centers in 2014 to translate climate science into real-world ideas for farmers and ranchers adapting to a hotter climate.
File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

As The Climate Changes, Will Farmers Depend On Government Research For Help?

Farmers and ranchers, with their livelihoods intimately tied to weather and the environment, may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump Administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

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Hundreds of companies and outside groups lobbied the 2014 Farm Bill and related issues during the drafting process.
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Setting the course for almost a trillion dollars of government spending, the 2014 Farm Bill attracted hundreds of companies eager to find their slice of the pie.

The “who” part of the Farm Bill is pretty clear.

With trillions dollars of government spending up for grabs, lobbyists from all ends of the spectrum – representing environmental interests, biotech companies, food companies, farmers – flocked to Capitol Hill to find their piece of the Farm Bill pie.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., (in green) watches as President Barack Obama signs the Farm Bill at Michigan State University on Feb. 7, 2014.
Courtesy David Kosling / U.S. Department of Agriculture

When U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced passage of the Farm Bill in February, she echoed a refrain from a car commercial.

“This is not your father’s Farm Bill,” she said.

As a young man, Elisha Pullen never imagined he would spend his days on the farm.

Growing up near rural Bell City in southeastern Missouri’s “Bootheel” region, Pullen longed to leave the farm and get an education.

“I grew up in the day and time when we had to do a lot of chopping and stuff like that. Hard labor,” Pullen said. “I’m going to college, I’m getting my degree and I’m going to work in the air conditioning.”

Once a staple of the American diet, we're now eating a lot less lamb. The U.S. sheep herd today is just one-tenth of its size in the 1940s.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in this country has been cut in half. In fact, the number has been declining since the late 1940s, when the American sheep industry hit its peak. Today, the domestic sheep herd is one-tenth the size it was during World War II.

The decline is the result of economic and cultural factors coming together. And it has left ranchers to wonder, “When are we going to hit the bottom?”

When I dig into a burger, I might think about how the cow the beef came from was raised -- whether it was grass or grain fed, locally raised or imported -- but rarely do I consider what breed of cow the meat came from.

If I did, I'd guess that it was beef from a Black Angus, Hereford or Charolais cow, which are the three most popular breeds used for meat production in the U.S. But that notion got turned on its head at this year’s Missouri Cattlemen’s Association’s convention in Columbia, Mo.

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