Iowa FSA chief brings experience of climate issues | Opinion
IFT: Over the past few years, between trade payments and COVID payments, the USDA has funneled a substantial amount of money to farmers. The general expectation is that the amounts may now come down. Thoughts?
RUSSEL: When I think of FSA, I think we provide a lot of resources to farmers. There is a real interest in supporting farmers. We tend to think that many of our programs provide a safety net for farmers.
IFT: The Biden administration has expressed support for more climate-friendly programs, and you’ve done a lot of work on climate issues. How do you see that playing out?
RUSSEL: Again, I don’t write politics. But I think we’re trying to figure that out. There is a real interest in the USDA for the climate. Farmers will make sound economic decisions about what works on their own farms. If climate management is going to require an investment or a change in practices, we should try to determine how to help make good climate decisions also good economic decisions.
I’m really optimistic. When farmers engage in this kind of conversation, they come up with some really good ideas. We need to engage farmers in these conversations.
IFT: Tell us about your farm.
RUSSEL: We have 110 acres. In 2005, when we started, we produced more than now. We have a pasture system and sell grass fed beef. We also raise some products. I would say we’ve moved a bit from looking at local foods to looking at ecosystem services. We cleaned up some weed issues, improved the terrain and provided some environmental stewardship. We feel like we’re getting a good return on that investment.