A shared language is an important part of getting along and of understanding what’s happening around you. In this era, when comprehending what’s happening in your fields may help your neighbors understand what’s happening in their fields and vice versa, a shared language around agriculture as it relates to climate change may be essential. This new language fosters what Laura Lengnick calls “reflective and shared learning.”

Lengnick is a researcher, policymaker, activist, educator and farmer. She contributed to the 3rd National Climate Assessment and wrote the book “Resilient Agriculture” to give farmers the tools to discuss climate change and address its effects on their farms. “The conversation is important,” she said. “As a society we need to recognize the challenges that producers are under as a result of climate change. There’s a legacy of denial – our leaders and consumers are able to behave as if there’s nothing wrong right now, and there are no new challenges in agriculture. Yet there are.”

“Resilient Agriculture” includes a framework to assess the climate vulnerabilities of an operation, the exposures likely at a given location, and the sensitivities in cropping systems. As a grower, not much can be done to change exposures, but a lot can be done to change adaptive capacity and sensitivity. The terminology presented via the framework offers farmers a new way to manage challenges created by climate change. A shared language provides a bridge to researchers and other agriculture pros, and helps everyone collaborate to address climate change.

Ann Adams, executive director of Holistic Management International, suggests that a shared language may lead to improved policies and incentives that, ultimately, may result in adoption of practices that lead to the mitigation or reversal of climate change. According to Adams, creating greater resiliency in U.S. landscapes will enable U.S. farmers to feed U.S. consumers. She said that will “decrease dependency on foreign food over which we have little to no control.”

S. Elwynn Taylor, Extension climatologist and professor of Agricultural Meteorology at Iowa State University, said it’s key to understand:

  • Weather Risk Management. Know likely exposures – risk of flood or drought or out-of-season heat wave or chill – and impact of those exposures on crop and market price (Lengnick dubs these exposures “sensitivities”);
  • How Ag practices have contributed to the changing composition of the atmosphere;
  • Agriculture doesn’t have to be a part of the problem; and,
  • Agriculture is a practical solution to the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

Emergence of a shared language around agriculture and climate change also facilitates development of a common vision for a sustainable agricultural system.

According to Jimmy Bramblett, a shared language equals a shared vision. As Wisconsin’s Chief Conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bramblett focuses on the relationship between soil health and climate change. He said a common frame of reference enables more stable production with less risk from direct and indirect impacts of climate change.

As the nation’s primary authority for soil mapping and soil data collection, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been leading a highly successful soil health campaign for the past several years. Many agricultural professionals have caught on to this message and are also communicating in this shared language.

Jerry Hatfield, co-lead author for the agriculture section of the 3rd National Climate Assessment, wants to see a focus on increasing climate resilience to stabilize production and build a climate-smart agricultural system.

“Resilience through nimbleness in management decisions and a generational transformation works best,” said Thomas Harter, Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis.

Often the same words have different meanings to different people. Paul West, co-director and lead scientist of the Global Landscapes Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, explained why agriculture needs a shared language to talk about climate change. “For me, resilience means the ability to adapt and still thrive in new situations. The specifics will need to change depending on what the areas need to adapt to.”