The following interview with James Robinson, Research and Policy Associate at RAFI, answers these three questions and provides further information on RAFI's work with climate change:
1. As a North Carolina-based organization, what are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities your region faces from climate change?
2. How are the farmers you work with rising to climate change and extreme weather challenges?
3. What policies – local, state, or federal – would RAFI like to see in response to climate change?
Help for family farms in crisis is the core of RAFI’s work. More than half of RAFI’s staff spend time on farm crisis cases. RAFI’s Farm Advocates often sit down at the kitchen table with struggling farmers, approximately 100 each year, and work to create a plan that keeps the farm family on their land.
All other programmatic work at RAFI is an effort to make systemic change that reduces the number of farms in crisis and increases their long-term sustainability. To achieve this, RAFI empowers farmers to earn a fair and dependable income, ensure a safety net, and create an environment where the right choice for farmers is also the right choice for the environment and rural communities.
In North Carolina and across the country, farmers are looking for practices that both reduce or eliminate their impact on climate change and increase their resilience in the face of a climate change. In other words, farmers are looking for innovative practices that are both good for the planet and good for their farm. For example, implementing a cover crop rotation will result in more stable yields during drought years but also achieve carbon sequestration. In fact, increasing cover cropping rotations present an opportunity to have a significant impact because current adoption rates are low, approximately 3 to 7 percent of farms nationally, and the South is no exception.
Adoption rates have been low because cover crop adoption can be costly. In fact, cover crop adoption is often more costly per acre than crop insurance, which presents an obvious challenge. Creating an environment where the right choice for farmers is the right choice for the environment requires changing that equation. Cover crop adoption should be the financially easy choice rather than the hard choice. While this is a challenge, it does present an opportunity. Potential solutions include expansion of EQIP funding or providing additional crop insurance subsidies to cover part of cover crop adoption costs.
While working toward these needed policy changes, RAFI is not waiting for them. Through RAFI's Agricultural Reinvestment Fund grant program, farmers are taking on the challenge of climate change. For example, Spellcast Farm in Lincolnton, NC recently used an ARF grant to convert an acre into native cover crops for grazing, which will be rotated to include vegetable production. Such a farming system will sequester carbon but also increase diversification, a key tool that can be used to achieve resilience.