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How Climate Change Is Affecting Florida Agriculture

Aug 14, 2019

Florida agriculture leaders met in Gainesville this week to talk about climate change solutions within the industry.

The meeting came after a warning from the United Nations urging farmers and foresters to adapt to global warming -- for the sake of the environment and the agriculture industry.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke with Lynetta Usher Griner, a logger and one of the organizers of the Gainesville meeting. 

She talks about bringing together farmers, ranchers, and foresters to discuss climate impacts:

Usher Griner: We've been involved in bringing together a group from throughout the state from different commodities, and talking about how we can be part of this the solution to the challenges that we face on a daily basis.

We feel like the farmers don't get much credit for what they deliver beyond the food and fiber that people naturally associate with us, but we also deliver ecosystem services-- and that encompasses a whole range of different things from habitat for wildlife, wild and endangered species to green space, to places for water to filter to store carbon to produce oxygen.

We do all that at our cost. All of those are part of the solutions to climate change and these changing conditions that we're facing every day in our state.

 Meszaros: Are these changes for farmers and ranchers costly? Can they realistically afford these changes?

Usher Griner: They're very costly. Whether it comes from losing crops or livestock, to extreme hot conditions and droughts, or too extreme rain falls and floods in the forest industry. 

And Hurricane Michael devastated our industry. About 16% of the standing timber in our state was destroyed. And that's a crop that takes 20 years to grow.

We're really challenged now with getting landowners to replant to wait for another 20 years to see a return on that investment, and that's where those ecosystem services can come in. If we start talking about paying landowners for those services that they provide, it can keep land in agriculture in production, and also provide those services to society as a whole.

Meszaros: So what is farming's role in the climate crisis?

Usher Griner: I think farmers, ranchers and foresters can all be part of the solution. We're already doing things like on our farm, we use soil moisture probes now to tell us when we should fertilize, when we should add irrigation.

We employ civil pasture, which is using our timberlands for our cattle to graze under that helps protect us from the threat of wildfire because they help keep the scrubby underbrush down. Farmers are also utilizing research to come up with crops that are more efficient at utilizing the fertilizers that we do have to apply to them.

I think that there's a lot of things that farmers are doing already that people just don't realize. It's easy to blame farmers for problems that they might see and not take into account all the things that we're trying to do to keep us economically sustainable and environmentally sustainable.

And I think that we're the boots on the ground and trying to marry those two challenges.