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Dealing with high input costs or climate change? Why not do both?

[This topic was previously posted March 2022 from the Southern Plains Perspective - you can reach other blog posts here.]


When you work on climate change issues and agriculture, you never know what you’re going to get hit with when you go to the coffee shop.

Case in point—Just the other day, I was at a gathering of some of my fellow agricultural types and was hit with a pointed question; “Why in the world should we be worried about all this climate change stuff with everything else going on?  Have you priced fertilizer or fuel lately and I don’t even know if I can get glyphosate?”

Points well taken. 

It is kinda crazy right now—gas prices alone have gone up over 50% from this time last year.  Diesel has seen a similar increase. Fertilizer prices aren’t any better.  A recent Texas A & M study found that the cost of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers more than doubled between 2020 and 2021.  And nitrogen, which accounts for more than 50% of the commercial fertilizer farmers use, is expected to see price increases in 2022 of more than 80% from the previous year.

Not good.

No doubt farmers and ranchers have a lot of unexpected challenges on their plate right now.  We were already seeing challenges with inputs resulting from the aftermath of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

However, I think we need to look at this differently. If you’re reading this blog, you probably have already heard what is on the horizon when it comes to droughts, floods, and other nasty weather events. You probably also have seen or heard about how climate smart farming practices, like no-till, cover crops, better pasture management and the like, can help you increase your soil’s water holding capacity, control run-off and erosion, and better position you to deal with these challenges.

I’m not going to rehash all that here.

What I am going to point out, however, is that these same soil health practices that help agriculture adapt to climate change, reduce soil erosion, protect water quality and reduce greenhouse gasses, can also help us reduced fuel and fertilizer costs.

Studies have shown that by converting to no-till alone, you can greatly reduce fuel use when growing crops–in many cases by as much as 4 gallons of diesel per acre per year.  Other sources have reported that by using soil health practices, you can reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer, with one 2017 study showing that the use of these practices reduced fertilizer costs by as much as $50 per acre (and think how the price of fertilizer has gone up since then!).

As I have mentioned several times before in this blog, the same practices that we want to undertake to protect our natural resources and prepare us for climate change are more often than not the same things that we want to do to control input costs.  Climate change action and addressing economic concerns are not mutually exclusive.  Remember, while everyone talks about going green to protect the environment, cash is green too.   Soil health/regenerative ag is the one place where protecting our natural resources and improving our bottom line go hand in hand.

We don’t have to choose between helping agriculture address climate change or helping producers with high input costs.  When we do one, we do the other.  

-Clay Pope