Midwest Floods: A Prayer for the Farmers and Everyone in Iowa

Our prayers are with everyone in Iowa and elsewhere in the US Midwest, as we read in the NYT: Towns on Mississippi Shore Up Levees.

The human and economic costs of the flooding in Iowa alone have already been devastating. Five people have died, nearly 40,000 people have been evacuated or displaced, and more than $1 billion worth of crops have been destroyed.

We all know that especially the farmers in the area are hoping to get back to work as soon as possible. Your crops feed the world (and corn and soy prices are already record high, with surpluses at a record low) so this couldn't have happened at a worse time. Iowa governor Chet Culver said, "...the state will face a prolonged recovery and rebuilding period with 83 counties facing significant damage, thousands of affected crop acres and devastation to homes, infrastructure and other property."

Brought to you with a prayer from Martin Frid at greenz.jpIt has been a particularly wet spring in the Midwest, with the weather delaying crop plantings, overflowing rivers, and ruining vast acres of corn and soybean plantings. The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation said on Monday that flood waters have claimed about 20 percent of grain acres in Iowa, or about 1.3 million of corn and up to 2 million acres of soy. Iowa and Illinois produce about one third of US corn and soybeans, and Iowa is a major producer of hogs and cattle. It also serves as a critical link in the country's road and rail network, with several Interstate highways crisscrossing the state. Reuters notes that the damage in Iowa is worse than in 1993.

Why is this happening? We don't know, of course. Climate change is a reality but we can't say how our lives will be influenced by it. What we know is that we are just beginning to see how human activities influence the environment. Climate change critics want proof, hey, if only it was that easy. Heavy rains and floods like this shouldn't happen every 15 years. At the same time, we are facing tough choices and need a sober discussion about how each of us are going to find solutions so things don't get much, much worse before they start to get better.

According to the 2006 United Nations Livestock's Long Shadow report (picked up by Treehugger and not to be forgotten or ignored), livestock is responsible for some 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalents. Feed production is also discussed in the report, as well as land degradation, freshwater shortages and biodiversity loss.

Will we see calls for real policy change as work is beginning on a "Rebuild Iowa" plan in the wake of the state's worst natural disaster?

From the report:

Damaging subsidies should be removed, and economic and environmental externalities should be built into prices by selective taxing of and/or fees for resource use, inputs and wastes. In some cases direct incentives may be needed.

Payment for environmental services is an important framework, especially in relation to extensive grazing systems: herders, producers and landowners can be paid for specific environmental services such as regulation of water flows, soil conservation, conservation of natural landscape and wildlife habitats, or carbon sequestration. Provision of environmental services may emerge as a major purpose of extensive grassland-based production systems.

An important general lesson is that the livestock sector has such deep and wide-ranging environmental impacts that it should rank as one of the leading focuses for environmental policy: efforts here can produce large and multiple payoffs. Indeed, as societies develop, it is likely that environmental considerations, along with human health issues, will become the dominant policy considerations for the sector.

Here in Japan, a report from a study group on international food issues under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries points out how frequent occurrence of abnormal weather conditions throughout the world because of the global warming that has affected the agricultural production. The soaring grain prices are attributable to abnormal weather conditions that include serious drought in Australia, dry conditions in Ukraine and Canada, and localized flood and drought in the US. In addition, a surge in oil prices and "money game" are said to have an influence on them, notes Nihon Nogyo Shimbun: Soaring World Grain Price Demanding Policy to Increase Domestic Production

Flooded cornfields in Oaksville, Iowa on June 16, 2008.

Consumers in Asia eat less meat, but it is clear that we as consumers must change our lifestyles. Just as we are debating what kind of car or bicycle we will be driving or how what kind of house we want to have in the future, we need to take a long, hard look at our daily bread and where it comes from.

Nobody likes to be told what they can or cannot have for supper. But at least we should start thinking about the devastating effects of our increasingly unsustainable global food consumption. And - time to remember to say our prayers.

Tags: Agriculture

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