Future farmers in Iowa will need to be more broadly educated, clever, and resilient than ever to combat the impacts of climate change. It will be up to me and educators across the state to make sure this message is received by our next generation of farmers.

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I spent my childhood  immersed in agriculture on a farm in central Iowa. We raised sheep; my grandfather and uncle grew corn and soybeans in the same area. At school, I took classes in the agriculture department and was an active participant in the Future Farmers of America organization (FFA). On the farm, I helped out with our livestock operation and developed a background in animal science at a young age. It was never really a question of whether or not I would go into agriculture, but rather how agriculture would factor into my life. 

Now in the third year of my Agricultural Education major at Iowa State University, I’m excited about my path ahead. Yet, I know that I’m taking on a great challenge with this career. Future farmers in Iowa will need to be more broadly educated, clever, and resilient than ever to combat the impacts of climate change. It will be up to me and educators across the state to make sure this message is received by our next generation of farmers.

Iowa is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, especially with more variable rainfall in recent years. Rain often comes in violent thunderstorms that can be accompanied by damaging hail and strong winds. As the ground struggles to absorb the downpour, flooding occurs. This summer, a major storm, a derecho, tore through central Iowa, flattening crops and destroying homes in my area. Large portions of our barn and fencing were destroyed and we had lambs running off onto neighboring properties. Despite this, we were fortunate compared to many others in the area. Experts are warning us that climatological events will only become more volatile in the Midwest. How will we as farmers and future educators respond?

As we move toward climate-conscious agriculture it will be tricky to negotiate Iowa’s agricultural traditions. Farmers are often resistant to regulations that will change the way they farm. This isn’t for a lack of care, whether it be for the climate or anything else. Rather, it is the perception that farming is a culmination of generational knowledge passed down through real-life experiences in a hyper-local environment--not something that can be taught in lectures. Nonetheless, I see the classroom as a key pillar to shift these traditions towards increasingly climate-conscious practices. Iowa already requires agricultural curriculums to include courses in climate science and earth-systems, and an understanding of environmental policy is becoming more important every day. The sooner young farmers are exposed to these ideas, the more eager they will be to become part of the solution. 

It’s sometimes hard to find hope in what seems like an endless stream of negative media regarding climate change. The pandemic and election have done little to aid this cycle. Although I see a difficult future, I also see hope. Every day, my coursework and experience on the farm bring the path forward into better focus. As the next generation of farmers takes over farms cultivated by generations of Iowans, I’ll be there to guide their hands. Shifting agricultural traditions to feed the projected population of nine billion by 2050 in a climate-conscious manner won’t be easy, but I can think of no greater cause worth fighting for.

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Kevin Werner

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