Heavy rains and climate change troubling for agriculture industry, emerging BIPOC farmers

Published 6:51 am Friday, June 21, 2024

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By Gracie Stockton and Cathy Wurzer

After two years of drought-dried fields, Minnesota farmers are facing the opposite problem — extremely soggy soil and flooding following several inches of rainfall that washed out roads and continue to push up river levels this week.

“All I’ll say is uffdah,” Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said.

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“A lot of the crop in Minnesota didn’t get planted [yet]. We’ll get some of the final acreage here later this month … this week is going to kind of put a nail in the coffin for some of the farmers who are trying to get in,” Petersen said Thursday.

Marcus Carpenter, founder of Route 1 — an organization that provides resources and programming for emerging BIPOC farmers — agrees.

“It has been a tough season,” Carpenter said. Among the several hundred farmers involved in Route 1, many have had their crops washed out.

“When you have farmers of color who have very little acreage to deal with in the beginning, having an entire washout can be detrimental for them, both economically … and from a community perspective.”

Overall, the median Minnesota net income for farms was $44,719 last year — down more than 76 percent from 2022, according to data and analysis from FINBIN and the University of Minnesota Extension. Carpenter said farmers of color in the state make somewhere around $20,000 annually, challenged by limited access to finances and market entry.

Delayed planting also contributes to food access and availability and health equity, according to Carpenter.

One in four Black Minnesota households experiences food insecurity, according to Second Harvest Heartland — that’s compared to 4 percent of white households.

“Farmers of color most of the time are not only growing for their families, but they’re growing for their communities,” he said.

Farming & climate change

Addressing climate change, Petersen says, has been a top priority for the Walz administration.

“As we see these extremes … really, a lot of it comes down to soil and so we’ve been working very hard on soil health,” he said.

To support cover crop usage, conservative tillage equipment and other methods of cultivating and maintaining rich soil, the state Legislature has prioritized funding loans for farmers.

‘State grants, Petersen says, are popular too. The state also partners with the USDA for outreach.

“We see farmers adapting quickly to soil health practices and also showing good profitability on those,” Petersen explained. “There’s a lot going on, but it almost has to” with a changing landscape.

Route 1, too, prioritizes education, especially around soil health, Carpenter said. The organization also supports green infrastructure like rainwater collection and cover cropping and is actively finding ways to feed communities despite climate change.