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Editorial: Climate change an economic threat

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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Imagine Iowa without agriculture. Suppose the state’s soil, which has been prized for its fertility since the first French explorers arrived here in the late 1600s, turned to sand. It would destroy the Iowa economy. In spite of urbanization, the well-being of Iowa’s agricultural industry is directly linked to Iowa’s continued prosperity.

This is what makes the recently released 2013 Iowa Climate Statement so troubling. Signed by 155 scientists across the state, it warns that rapid changes in Iowa’s weather threaten the state’s strong agriculture industry. This past spring was the wettest on record, which prevented farmers from planting crops at the optimal time. By August, much of the state was experiencing a moderate drought, further damaging Iowa’s corn and soybean yield. The damage went far beyond crops, however, wreaking havoc on the entire agricultural sector.

“The increase in hot nights that accompanies hot, dry periods reduces dairy and egg production, weight gain of meat animals, and conception rates in breeding stock,” the statement said. “Warmer winters and earlier springs allow disease-causing agents and parasites to proliferate, and these then require greater use of agricultural pesticides.” We implore Iowa’s elected officials, from the hamlets of southern Iowa to the Statehouse in Des Moines to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to make the fight against climate change their top priority. Climate change is no longer some vague, abstract concept that will eventually arrive. It is here. It is dangerous. And it threatens the very foundation of Iowa’s economy.

As Iowa has developed, its economic progress has been inextricably linked to agriculture: When Iowa’s manufacturing sector first began to boom in the 1870s, it was thanks in large part to the railroad industry, but the firms that arose depended also on farming. This included meatpacking plants and the iconic Quaker Oats factory in Cedar Rapids, among others. Even some of Iowa’s esteemed educational institutions were built around agriculture. Iowa State University was established in 1858 to provide training in the agricultural sector, which it still famously does today.

Richard Longworth, a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune put it well when he wrote, “Take farming away from the Midwest and you’ve stolen not only its economy but its identity.” According to a report by economists from Iowa State University, around 20 percent of all jobs in Iowa and 23 percent of gross domestic product comes directly and indirectly from agriculture and agriculture-related manufacturing. It also explained that 45 percent of all manufacturing jobs in Iowa are linked to the agricultural sector.

By its nature, agriculture is volatile, hence the protections the federal government has instituted to protect farmers from the damaging financial effects of poor harvests. Too much or too little water, which becomes increasingly common under climate change, can easily damage a crop. While crop yields have grown thanks to new technology and farming techniques, they may very well decrease due to harsh conditions caused by climate change. For the sake of Iowa’s economy, policymakers must work to make climate change their primary focus. There is little choice in the matter: either they can stand idly by as the agricultural industry suffers, causing severe economic damage, or they can work for the common good and try to preserve what has been the bedrock of Iowa’s economy for generations.


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