To the Editor:
In 2019, while food prices rose three times as fast as inflation, half of Illinois farmers lost money. This year will be worse. Alan Guebert, widely read farm writer, observes:
" … [Because of] trade disputes"—a phrase that softens our woodenheaded tariff fights with key American ag customers … 2020 farm income pre-Covid [was] projected at a puny $44,330 [per farm].
Post-Covid 2020 farm income [will be] worse: a knee-buckling, negative $25,033.”
Bankrupted farms represent about half the farmland in northern Illinois today. Too often they end up in the hands of absentee investors clueless about soil health.
Declining soil health seriously damages civil society due to lost ecosystem services, i.e. reduced crop yields, less nutritious food, more flooding, more damaging droughts, accelerated erosion, polluted waterways, and critically, more atmospheric carbon and worsening climate change.
All ecosystem services are diminished by conventional farming practices that lead to soil organic carbon loss.
Carbon farming, i.e. farming carbon back into the soil like any valuable crop, is the remedy. But farmers must be fairly paid as incentive to farm this way. Switching from conventional to carbon farming involves two to four years of reduced yields and purchasing new equipment.
Given their current perilous financial condition, few conventional farmers are tempted to try.
Congressional climate legislation supporting carbon farming is almost certain in the next few years. But whether farmers will be fairly compensated depends on all of us.
Farmers need to start monitoring and recording their soil organic matter if they ever hope to be paid for sequestering carbon. We all need to tell our congresspersons "Climate legislation must pay farmers the same price for sequestering a ton of carbon as energy producers are taxed for emitting it."
Only financially secure carbon farmers can guarantee us a safe, well-fed, sustainable future.
Donovan C. Wilkin