…Clayton is a Midwesterner and agricultural policy editor at DTN/The Progressive Farmer. He’s also the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change, which describes in detail how farmers and farm lobbyists have dealt — or, more often, refused to deal — with a changing climate.
It has sometimes put Clayton in an awkward spot, as he acknowledged when I reached him this week in his office in Omaha, Neb.
Does it make you nervous, as a reporter at a farm publication, talking about climate change?
All the time. I feel like the guy who has to tell people things they don’t want to hear. But if I simply ignore the topic or ignore the issues, am I doing anybody any favors?
You decided to write a book on climate change during a Farm Bureau convention in 2011, when you were hearing lots of climate change skepticism.
Oddly enough, we were at a convention in Atlanta, where a freak ice storm shut us in. I was stuck at a bar, a Trader Vic’s, and got into a long conversation with friends who were analysts and lobbyists for Farm Bureau. [The group represents mainstream commodity farmers.] And I felt like the issue was not being fully addressed by farm groups.
The attitude you were hearing at the convention was ‘efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emission are a bad thing and we’re just against them?’
Yes, cap-and-trade specifically, the Waxman-Markey bill as it was called. Farm Bureau came out very aggressively against that bill, after pushing cap-and-trade throughout the decade before. During the Clinton administration, Farm Bureau was really one of the leaders in helping pitch the concept of a cap-and-trade plan that also partially would have paid farmers for sequestering carbon in soil, using the kind of practices that build organic matter. Farm organizations helped pitch this idea to the Clinton administration. By the time you get around to the debate in 2009, Farm Bureau takes a very skeptical attitude, and then starts inviting some of the strongest climate critics to become speakers at its convention.
You go into lots of detail on how the politics of this evolved. But I’m left with the overall impression that farm groups became more and more opposed to doing anything on climate change — and it was driven, as much as anything, by hostility to the Obama administration.
That’s accurate. Farm groups pushed back even before Obama had been officially put into office. There were press releases put out right after the election warning farmers about an impending EPA “cow tax” that was really a myth. But it pushed this narrative that the Obama administration was going to be anti-farmer…