Climate change watchers were thrilled when King Charles III assumed the monarchy last week.
As Prince of Wales, the King was heralded as an environmentalist and one of the earliest high-profile leaders to raise a red flag about global warming.
He also has strong ties to agriculture – or more precisely, to segments of agriculture – which also touch on the environment.
Being huge landowners, the King and the rest of the Royal family have always fancied themselves farmers.
Starting some 35 years ago, Charles became a vocal fan of organic agriculture. He liked the low-chemical approach to growing crops. He figured the environment would be better off if producers farmed organically, and he let his feelings be widely known.
However, his position met with mixed reviews.
First, it ignored the reams of research that had, and is, going into making commercial crop protection products safer.
It also further strained the fragile olive branch between organic and modern agriculture camps, which can be obsessed with pointing accusatory fingers at each other for failing consumers.
Organic farmers benefitted somewhat from the profile Charles gave their farming practices. But they knew someone in such a privileged position as a prince really had no idea of the marketing and production challenges they faced.
Grassroots profitability is not a key driver to Charles. And like it or not, profitability and farming must go hand in hand.
Being King puts Charles even further apart from his charge, economically and practically. But from the throne he has a limitless term to make a difference.
If – and that’s a big if – he can put himself in the shoes of his own citizenry, he’ll realize people are on edge about inflation, particularly food and energy, and about sustainability.
It’s the same elsewhere. Leaders globally – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden, among them – are trying to address concerns at home be seen on the world stage as pacesetters for climate change mitigation.
Their terms are limited by legislation. Charles’s is limited only by his own stability and longevity. That gives him time to carefully enact a climate change plan that works for farmers, not just for votes.
Most lately, he’s adopted regenerative agriculture as his cause. He told an international soil conference in Glasgow that regenerative farming is the future of food production.
“We have to be proactive in encouraging regenerative agriculture, with a diversity of plants and of grazing livestock, replacing lost organic matter through the use of legumes, cover crops, residues and mulches,” the UK agricultural publication Farmers Weekly reported him saying.
It’s a very defensible position, one that the public everywhere wants to hear, even if its members don’t fully understand it. Regenerative agriculture sounds like a measured approach for farmers. Owing to the time it takes to grow crops and raise livestock, any change in agriculture takes time. But Charles has the time to see change through as monarch.
Will his focus get diluted? Probably. The new King already said his role won’t leave him as much time for his long-standing causes (like the environment), and that he’ll have to pass the torch.
But from the throne, it only takes a speech or two, or even a few lines in a speech, to keep the sustainability fires burning. Charles needs to let people know he cares about what they care about. And helping them sort out climate change is an important step forward.