The Planted Row: It's better to have the information

Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

In almost every situation, it’s better to have all the information.

I want to know everything all the time. I want to know about all possible options so I can make informed decisions. In my opinion, that is the only sane way to live in a democracy.

It is not, however, entirely feasible. We can’t spend all of our time trying to stay informed. We need the help of others to narrow down the flow of information to the most important and most immediate topics.

The people who perform that service for you are called journalists. But how do journalists get that information? After all, we’re only human. We’re not scouring every scientific journal, attending every meeting, and monitoring every government and private communication to find every piece of news you deserve to know about.

This is where a wonderful thing called a news release comes in. People who are working on or have knowledge of something noteworthy often send out an e-mail to members of the press to let us know. Government agencies, private businesses and nonprofit organizations all send us news releases when they have something important people should know about.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture usually sends out news releases for everything. Sometimes it’s national news, like details for a new trade aid package or crop insurance regulations. Sometimes it’s very local news, like every community investment it makes and grant it awards, no matter how small.

We take all that information and do our best to make sure the things you care about are printed in the paper.

So imagine my surprise when I learned of a recent investigation by Politico that exposed the fact the USDA has failed to issue some news releases for some rather important research results. According to Politico, since January 2017, the USDA has failed to issue news releases for some studies about the effects of climate change.

Before you get upset, these aren’t studies about the causes or validity of climate change. They’re studies about the effects of climate change on agriculture.

In one instance, the study showed that rice decreases in nutritional value as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase. That has very important implications for the 600 million people who get more than half their daily calories from rice. In that instance, not only did the USDA decline to issue a news release, but it also tried to keep university research partners from issuing releases, as well.

Another of these studies showed that rising carbon dioxide levels decrease the nutritional value of prairie grasses, which has implications for livestock producers.

Another study showed that while climate change might increase agricultural and nutrient runoff into the Mississippi River, no-till practices and cover crops can reduce that pollution despite climate change.

There are 45 such studies from the Agricultural Research Service that did not receive any USDA promotion.

Listen, I get it. Climate change is a sensitive subject right now, and it’s not exactly one of the current administration’s priorities. But this research is being conducted with public funds, and it is producing important information that farm and ranch people need so they can make decisions about how to run their operations. If the USDA decides to just publish the results in scholarly journals and not tell anyone about them, then most people won’t get the information. If that happens, we might as well have not spent the money on the research at all.

The USDA needs to promote the results of its studies regardless of whether they support the administration’s political agenda.

It’s our money they’re spending, and we deserve to know what we’re buying.