Like many indigenous experts and environmentalists, Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser sees climate changes affecting the very way he conducts business and cares for his crops.
“Another day of rain, another day of working inside, another day that we can’t take care of the crops,” he says in this video from The Story Group highlighting the main points of a chapter in the National Climate Assessment released last year by the administration of Barack Obama. “You wonder how you’re going to take care of the crop the way it should be taken care of.”
This snippet opens with rain, rain and more rain. It streams down, plops into numerous puddles, drips off leaves that look as though they’ve had enough.
Overall, water is a good thing. But there are good things, and there is too much of a good thing. Too much water saturates the soil and prevents roots from forming the way they should. This means they can’t draw the nutrients that the plant above them needs.
Having farmed in Iowa for 35 years—since he was 15—Gaesser has planted and harvested 46 crops. Change is one thing, he notes. It is inevitable that things change, since that is what’s required for anything to grow, mature and be harvested, and he is constantly adapting to changes as a matter of course, he says. But these changes are different.
“It just seems that we’re having more extreme events,” he says, adding that the volatility has been extreme, with events such as three, four, five inches of rain in an hour, or even more at time. “And those are just not normal.”
Besides compromising roots, the excess moisture brings disease to corn and soybeans, he says. He describes his metamorphosis from someone who thought climate change was just about fear-mongering to get farmers to spend money on new technologies, to a witness of the actual events. And now he finds himself forced to adapt daily.
“Whether it’s heat, or cold, or too much rain, or not enough rain,” he says, the changes have multiplied his expenses five times over the past 10 years as he has added equipment to make better use of a shorter planting and harvesting time window, to being more mindful of soil cover as serious rain events threaten it, to installing pipe systems to take water away from the plants—reverse irrigation, if you will.
Adapting to constant change is “really natural for us,” he says. “What is unnatural is the fast pace that we’re having to adjust to.”