Twelve miles into my forty mile ride this morning I stopped in the little town of Kaneville to visit the Purple Store, a local hotspot where they grill out every Tuesday and Thursday and residents can socialize and talk about life in farm country.
This morning a gathering of three or four elders was seated in chairs facing the counter where the manager on duty was soaking up friendly teasing from the group of old boys trading quips. I recognized one of the visitors from my days as a Kaneland student, the regional high school four miles up the road. We exchanged greetings and then I joined the conversation in progress by repeating a question I’d just heard.
“Is anyone planting corn this year?”
The weather in Illinois has been so wet and cool through mid-June it has been impossible to plant crops thus far this spring. If that sounds like the exact opposite effect one might expect from global warming, then you don’t really understand the concept or how climate change is actually expected to affect different regions of the world.
But here it is June 11th, 2019. Normally there would be corn sprouts casting a green haze across Kane County fields. This year there is nothing but a few bean fields planted. The remaining farmers are rushing to get seed into the ground before the next expected rain storm tomorrow. During my ride I saw farm implements coursing across fields and hustling down country roads to reach their next destination.
Too late to plant corn
“It’s too late to plant corn,” one of the elders observed quietly from his seat inside the Purple Store. He’s seen a few planting seasons in his time. Clearly this year’s situation is different than anything he’s seen in recent times. What’s a farmer to do when the weather flat-out refuses to cooperate?
Some might try to write off this year’s rainy season as a climatic aberration. But if the same thing happens next year, and the next, whats the story then? And what if the tables turn and drought takes over as it did long ago in the Dust Bowl when too much native soil was turned over and the rains refused to follow the plow?Let’s admit it agriculture will need to make big adjustments if climate change keeps messing with the systems to which we’re accustomed.
Tariffs and ripoffs
Already the ag industry has seen waves of losses brought on by Donald Trump’s trade snits toward China. To make up for the gaffe of blowing up the seed markets, Trump shunted billions to the agriculture industry to make up for the losses caused by sinking prices and piles of grain spilling out of stuffed silos across the Midwest.
There’s no such thing as perfect economic policy, that’s for sure. International trade policy is at best a set of standards against which countries seek to measure their output and intake. These measures are designed to protect a healthy economy for everyone involved. But trade wars act like a cancer eating away at economic systems from the inside out. Just like a cancer patient whose chemo doctor brings them close to death in order to save their lives, there is a tipping point at which the treatments become worse than the disease itself.
As an illustration of this point, world-class cyclist and Lance Armstrong once turned to his oncologist and said, and I paraphrase, “Give me all you got, Doc. You can’t kill me.”
To which his doctor replied, “Oh, yes I can.”
Those who consider themselves too strong to fail or refuse to accept the reality of their actions when they do can turn out to be the death of us all. And if our climate reaches a point where it is stressed beyond its capacity to recover from the impact of manmade climate change, we can expect there will be politicians and religious zealots still claiming there is nothing human beings can do to affect the world that much.
That is ignorance. That is arrogance. That is cognitive dissonance. And no amount of farm subsidies is going to fix stupid.
Just ask the farmers who couldn’t get their corn into the ground this spring, or whose properties are buried under floodwaters from the Missouri or Mississippi Rivers. Might there just be something going on that’s bigger than “local weather?” The voices of those farmers might just be the canary in the coal mine that gets the attention of climate change deniers and their religious ilk so eager to deny the science that points to manmade impacts on our global atmosphere.
I know one thing: I just rode forty miles through mostly blank fields today. And having lived in farm country for all sixty-plus years of my life, I know an odd sign when I see one. There’s nothing corny about this situation we’re in. And I know from studying nature for those sixty years that one can never tell which seed of hope or piece of genetic drift is vital to sustaining this world for future generations.
I wonder if some people really get that. But it’s easy to see the people who really don’t. They’re the ones still claiming that nothing’s wrong with this picture.