by Troy Bishopp
By now you’ve witnessed a few accolades for my media work. The stark irony, however, is I may never receive another award after this editorial. As an ole farmer, I’m okay with it because I’m experiencing personal strife over who decides what the future of agriculture should be, under the cloak of climate resiliency and “cheap food policies” – a concoction that doesn’t mix well.
Sitting alone, all masked up at the recent NYS Ag Society meeting, I felt like the dinosaur as the first speaker suggested my burping, farting cows would be grazing on the fifth floor, grassy veranda of a futuristic hotel amongst floors of soil-less vegetables, putting greens and a shopping mall where “push-button” farmers would seemingly harvest net-zero food and utopia would be achieved. Imagine cows in an elevator.
Merle Haggard’s song kept playing in my mind: “There’s a big, brown cloud in the city/And the countryside’s a sin/The price of life is too high to give up/It’s gotta come down again/When they find out how to burn water/And the gasoline car is gone/When an airplane flies without any fuel/And the sunlight heats our home/But one of these days when the air clears up/And the sun comes shinin’ through/We’ll all be drinkin’ that free Bubble Up/And eatin’ that rainbow stew.”
After clubbing the stegosaurus (me), panelists launched unabated into selling New York State’s Climate Act and the behemoth, 341-page draft scoping plan and its appendixes which say we must achieve (or else?) a “carbon neutral economy, mandating at least an 85% reduction in emissions below 1990 levels, 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 and be 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2040” (see climate.ny.gov/Our-Climate-Act/Draft-Scoping-Plan). Sadly, in a room full of agriculturists, there seemed to be no objection or common sense questioning other than how to profit off this “circular economy” ideal.
The rhetoric gut-punched my 100-acre reality. New York State seemingly wants to cajole, dictate, mandate, regulate and “retire” my woodlot for heat, collect my cow’s manure for energy and gag them from burping, get rid of my paid-for combustion-engine tractor in lieu of a shiny, un-invented electric one. The state seems fine with having us convert to hydroponics, diminish my farming skills away from biology, create money out of thin air, produce more cheap food while attaining social justice, lump the “doomsday” cost on my grandchildren and ultimately put our sixth-generation farm out of business with regulation servicing a faceless, plug-in society, “like a hog under a tree eating acorns, but never looking up to see where they come from.”
Here I am in the middle of the climate issue where “experts” banter over my family’s fate. I guess I was naïve to think that my cows grazing diverse, biologically-active pastures sequestering carbon and rainfall events bordered by riparian areas and woodland with abundant wildlife while maintaining a holistically-balanced, right-sized operation for our local environment was somehow regenerative and my stewardship appreciated by my state.
We farm in a climate resiliency mode already that’s free to the citizens of New York by enhancing healthy soils covered at all times, utilizing more animals and less tractor time, sustaining and building perennial systems, using renewables where possible and subscribing to produce and eat local while patronizing all farmers in our foodshed. Maybe the top-down, “Ignoramus” dinosaurs should look at a model of living within your means as a way to help our great-grandchildren prosper within the decarbonization narrative.
The question that haunts me as a 1% farmer and Pop-Pop is can or will the customer pay for carbon neutrality by purchasing cheap food or are we going to force everyone into compliance? It’s time to question and let your voice be heard. I’m after common sense solutions that every person can do now, of their own accord to help the environment. However, in the words of fictional rancher John Dutton from “Yellowstone,” “I am the opposite of progress. I am the wall that it bashes against it, and I will not be the one who breaks.”