For years, the Agriculture Department worked on a plan to help farmers plan for and cope with the changes that are already affecting them as the climate crisis intensifies. Scientists across 21 agencies came together to develop a plan to safeguard the nation’s food supply, and the stability of the agricultural industry, for the next decade. That plan was completed in 2017 and the USDA prepared to distribute it to help farmers and ranchers adapt to a changing world. Then the USDA clamped down on the report and it was never issued.
As Politico reports, release of the report was halted after the White House forbid the USDA from using the scientific evidence collected by its own researchers, and to stop even using the term “climate change” or any discussion of greenhouses gases. The halted report not only discusses topics that are now off limits for the Trump USDA, it also discusses ways in which farmers might change their own practices to reduce further environmental harm—an idea that Donald Trump has actively ridiculed.
In the draft report, the Agriculture Department emphasizes both the vital need for farmers and ranchers to address the effects of climate change on their own land, and the continued defense of the nation’s woodlands, grasslands, and wetlands a buffer against the climate crisis and related environmental harms. The plan looks at six major areas of action related to the climate crisis: identifying the effects, adapting to change, mitigating problems, planning for the future, measuring effects, and implementing best practices. None of that information reached farmers.
What did reach farmers was continued promises from Trump that China and others had agreed to buy “record amounts” of agricultural products despite Trump’s tariffs that had disrupted global trade. Those promises encouraged thousands of farmers to store record amounts of grain over the winter, waiting for prices to rise. Prices did not. But flood waters did.
Trump is systematically starving farmers of the information they need. That’s not just an economic disaster for them, it’s a looming catastrophe for the nation.
As the report points out from the beginning, changes due to rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, and generally more chaotic weather are leading to extensive vulnerabilities in the agricultural system. America is used to having such a surplus of production that it never worries about shortages, and even with the climate crisis that’s unlikely to change in the short term. However, the climate crisis is already having a huge effect on the ability of farms to predict their output and to plan for the future—a problem exacerbated by Trump’s tariffs.
Other studies have shown that farmers can continue to produce at levels equal to that seen over the last decade, but only if they work closely with the Agriculture Department and other agencies to change crop selection, seed mixes, and farming practices. Those changes aren’t a one-time thing, because the climate isn’t anywhere close to setting into a new set pattern. Farmers need to be able to access information again, and again, updated with the latest data, to make good choices. The blocked plan would have provided detailed information for the next four years and preliminary guidance on the four after that.
Trump has denied them that information. That denial might not necessarily cause farmers to vote against Trump in wide numbers since, having already bought into the idea that “only Trump” can save them, and after listening to Trump lavish them with praise and empty promises, those farmers are having a very hard time admitting that they’ve placed their entire livelihood in the hands of a plain-old conman.
But lack of this information will accelerate the already record-high level of farm failures. And as for that big purchase of grain by China … that’s still not happening.