The Weather Matters a Lot to Farmers — and It’s Shaped by the Climate. Will Sonny Perdue Get That?

Andee Erickson | Published: January 20, 2017

President Trump has nominated Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia, to be his secretary of agriculture. It’s a wide-ranging position at the head of a vast department, but one immediate question is where Perdue will stand on a number of environmental initiatives launched under the leadership of former secretary Tom Vilsack, who focused attention on the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions from farming and, simultaneously, to prepare the agricultural community itself for a changing climate.

But some green groups have expressed concerns about the nomination, given Perdue’s past comments suggesting he may take a different line than Vilsack did on matters related to climate change.

Writing in National Review in 2014, Perdue criticized attempts by “some on the left or in the mainstream media” to connect climate change to weather events. “Liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality,” he wrote.

Under former president Barack Obama, the Agriculture Department set up regional “climate hubs” to help farmers and landowners adapt to a changing climate. “There’s been a lot of work in developing, under the [previous] administration, climate resilience or climate smart agriculture,” said Charles Rice, an agronomy professor at Kansas State University.

And then there’s the contribution of agriculture itself to warming and other environmental problems. Agriculture produced 9 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions in 2014. Accordingly, the Obama administration had promised to curb agriculture’s contribution to climate change by reducing 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year by 2025. It’s not clear whether these policies would continue under Perdue.

While the responsibilities of the agriculture secretary don’t directly state that he or she must consider climate change in decision-making, Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at Environmental Working Group, said the next secretary should. “Frankly, the next agriculture secretary should be leading efforts to require more environmental stewardship in exchange for the nearly $140 billion subsidies taxpayers provide to agriculture every year,” Faber said.