Greg Page: Provacative Without Provoking Ag on Climate Change

Nov 15, 2016

Retired Cargill Chief Executive Greg Page talks with Laura Nelson during the Montana Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in Billings. Page is a member of the Risky Business Project on climate change.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

The former chief executive of Cargill said when it comes to talking about climate change, he wanted to be provocative without provoking the nearly 300 farmers and ranchers in attendance at the annual Montana Farm Bureau Federation annual conference.

Greg Page knows farmers and ranchers are generally skeptical about this topic.

So he opened by asking, “How many people believe we’re seeing climate change?”

About two dozen hands went up and someone yelled out, "It always changes."

Page then asked how many think part of climate change is caused by people burning fossil fuels. Many of those raised hands dropped.  Finally, when he asked how many would be willing to spend $10/month to address the issue the remaining hands went down.

“Well, that leaves my 4th question. How many of you would be willing to spend $50 as not particularly valuable,” he said with a laugh.

Page is the agricultural representative on the Risky Business Project, a coalition of business and policy leaders who’ve come together to prepare businesses for climate change. Other high profile members include hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, Henry Paulson, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs and a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor and founder of Bloomberg, L.P.

Page showed Montana producers a map of the U.S. that projected much of the Northern plains, incluing Montana, could see crop production go up over the next half-century. That elicited at least a few whoops.

“I’m from North Dakota. And not so jokingly they have a right to think of this as global climate improvement,” Page said as the crowd laughed. “That has been their experience and more than likely than not is that scenario will continue.”

There are projected to be losers, he said. Scientists expect there will be more rain in fewer events. He said farmers will have to adapt to keep moisture in the soil longer or come up with ways to store water.  Page said already volatility with weather has led to volatility in commodity prices.

Page urged farmers and ranchers to join the discussion on climate change rather than denying it is taking place. He said the Risky Business Project soon will release its second report.

Taylor Brown, president of Northern Ag Network and a current state legislator, wanted to know what the group was doing in the policy arena.

“Because I think that’s the frustrating thing to us. We know we can adapt,” Brown said. “We farm in Montana for Pete’s sake.”

Page said there has been disagreement among the members of the Risky Business Project on how that policy would look.

“One of the things they wanted to do - one of the first things I got - was implicit in what they said, ‘get rid of all of the tractors that were more than 27 years old.’” That elicited groans and nervous laughter from the MFBF members. “Hey have mercy on me. I went to these meetings,” laughed Page.

He said the group came to agreement that, “a problem as slowly evolving as climate change doesn’t need policy uncertainty. Whatever we do, just make the rules and farmers and business people will adapt to them and give us time to adapt.”

Page said trade between the U.S. and other countries can help meet the demands to feed a growing population during times of increased weather volatility and crop shortages.