The failures of modern agriculture are generally predictable, but for various reasons they are almost never predicted: that is to say, the farmer who farms badly is often surprised at the result of his bad farming, and is not quite sure how to go about fixing it. Indeed, the general public does not seem to know how to fix the problem of our bad farming practices; witness a long and interesting essay at the New Republic that claims, and asks,
Climate change is making the Texas panhandle, birthplace of the state’s iconic Longhorn, too hot and dry to raise beef. What happens to the range when the water runs out?
It has become fashionable, of course, for the Left to blame every negative aspect of society on climate change; in another few years they’ll doubtlessly be blaming global warming for the total failure of Hillary Clinton’s ambitious first-term policy package. At any rate, the problems with the Texas panhandle are not, strictly speaking, a matter of “climate change.” The climate may or may not be changing as progressives claim it is (more likely it is not); the failure of Texas agriculture, however, can be laid squarely at the feet of Texas agriculture and little else.
As Ted Genoways makes clear, the panhandle has for decades been subject to the typical onslaught of American agriculture: commodity crops, feedlot beef and dairy production, little to no effort to regenerate the soil, and a reckless disregard for what it takes to make a farming operation sustain itself beyond a few decades of cash-manic production. This is what industrial farming does, and it has nothing to do with climate change. If Texas farmers had been farming well for the past half-century, they could have rendered much of the affected area largely resistant to drought. They did not, and so they have drought, caused not by climate change but by farmers.
It would not have been particularly hard to avoid this. There are a few rules one has to follow if one wants to make a farm work: graze your cattle on a rotational schedule, don’t overgraze, don’t feed them grain or industrial “hull byproduct,” build catchment ponds wherever you can, don’t blow out your soil with years and years of row cropping, do smart cover cropping on your fields, make soil improvement and water retention two of the principle goals of your farm rather than peripheral considerations. If you do these things, your farm will be poised to survive the kind of drought that is currently gripping the panhandle; if you do the exact opposite of these things, the water will dry up, your farm will suffer, it will eventually fail, and you will have to leave.
Soil improvement is an eminently practical solution, and an obvious one at that. And yet in these cases it is one you rarely hear coming from the progressive base; rather, we have to listen to diatribes about “climate change” and “global warming” and “global weirding” and about how if we don’t act now we’re going to have to deal with catastrophic climate collapse and the eventual implosion of the solar system. Responsible agricultural stewardship is sensible and accessible; climate change is increasingly a nonthreatening and perhaps nonexistent phenomenon. And yet the fixation is generally on the latter rather than the former.
The reason is obvious: soil improvement is a low-tech, local, unobtrusive undertaking, while climate alarmism promises to give the government more power and more control over the economy, the agricultural sector and ultimately the citizenry. This is the progressive end-game; they are not interested in solving the problems of the Texas panhandle so much as they are interested in bringing the people of the Texas panhandle–along with everyone else—under their thumb. This is why the liberal solutions to “global warming” always depend upon giving more power and more authority to the environmental bureaucracy: to the Left, climate change is a matter of war, and the enemy combatants—you—must be brought into line. The faltering Texas beef industry is concerning, but the insatiable progressive desire for control is an ever-present threat, and has the potential to do much more damage.