Agriculture and global warming

John Stulp says that farmers are a solution, not the problem, in global warming

by Allen Best

It was probably no accident that former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper chose John Stulp to be his “water czar” for 8 years.

He’s genial, has a dry wit, and despite being a life-long farmer, could not be accused of having a horse in Colorado’s so-called water wars. His farm south of Lamar is dryland, dependent upon what falls from the sky.

John Stulp

Raised in Yuma, Stulp began farming 50 years ago south of Lamar, and there’s no doubt the climate has changed, he said in a webinar sponsored by the Colorado Renewable Energy Society.

“There is no question in my mind about climate change,” he said. “It’s happening and it seems to be accelerating.” For example, he said, more corn and soybeans are being grown in the Dakotas than ever before. As for his part of Colorado, droughts have deepened and lengthened and overall precipitation declined.

It has dried out sufficiently in southeastern Colorado, he said, to the point that road runners now think they’re home when in Prowers County.

Still, a recent survey found more than 50% of farmers and ranchers believe global warming is happening, but only 20% have talked with one another about it.

As for the cause of this warming, Stulp talked like the commissioner of agriculture that he was in the administration of Gov. Bill Ritter. “I sometimes think livestock gets a bad rap,” he said. He was talking about cows belching and farting, which is not an inconsiderable amount when you consider that there are twice as many cows in Weld County as there are people.

“Because agriculture is just 2.5% of the population, sometimes I feel we’re getting picked on.”

Rather than the cows, he tends to think people have a problem with food waste. In 2018, solid waste landfills were the third largest source of human-related methane emissions, 17%. Americans annually toss more than 200 pounds of useable food per person, the highest rate of any wealthy country.

But again, Stulp defends agriculture, taking great pride in the advances that have allowed milk production to increase even as the carbon footprint decreases and overall productivity to have gained enormously.

Colorado’s state government has begun to grapple with the emissions from the various sectors. Representatives of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment admit that they struggle a bit to get strong numbers they can defend from the agriculture sector. County emissions from a few dozen smokestacks is far more easily done than from the millions of acres of land.

In any event, Stulp hopes to see the effort to drive down emissions being an opportunity for agriculture. Through incentives, more can be done to promote rotational grazing, no-till and other techniques to sequester carbon.

This is from the July 23, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. Subscribe for free to the e-magazine by going to Big Pivots.

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Allen Best