Drought-ravaged corn on Pablo Antonio Villegas's farm in El Salvador.

FERN’s Friday Feed: The climate-driven dilemma of Central America’s farmers

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Climate change is forcing desperate Central American farmers to the U.S.

FERN and The Weather Channel

In Central America’s Dry Corridor, a historically drought-prone region that stretches from Mexico to Panama and is home to 10.5 million people, climate change is producing longer and more frequent dry spells and forcing a growing number of farmers to attempt to migrate to the U.S., according to FERN’s latest story. José Ramón Campos López, a 40-year-old farmer from San Carlos Lempa, El Salvador, has tried three times to get to the U.S., writes Anna-Catherine Brigida, but each time he was caught and sent back. He makes clear he will almost certainly try again. “Every day you become more desperate,” he says, “and so you make the journey to the U.S.”

Photo essay: The toll of Trump’s policies on California’s undocumented farmworkers

California Sunday Magazine

“Rodrigo, the Salvadoran father of 9-year-old American-born Julio, picks crops. He said he likes the fields because it’s the natural world and he likes to use his muscles,” writes Diana Marcum. “But on some days, Julio tells him, ‘Papa, I don’t think you should go to work today. I feel scared,’ and Rodrigo listens. He said there have been more raids in the past five months. His friend told him about a cousin who was arrested during a sweep of a packing plant. The cousin protested that she had a baby son at home. The ICE agent asked, ‘How old is your baby?’ The cousin told her, ‘Five years old.’ The agent said, ‘He’s old enough to take care of himself.’”

Big Cotton’s ‘whimsical’ marketing campaign masks ugly truths about the industry


Remember those sing-song ads for cotton, featuring sorta-stars like Zooey Deschanel and Kate Bosworth? The touch, the feel of cotton, the fabric of our lives. Kaitlyn Tiffany does. She writes: “Insofar as any plant needs a whimsical dreamscape ad campaign, it’s cotton.” Tiffany goes on to describe the cotton industry’s “ugly roots” in American slavery, its declining market share, and the way it uses its political power to garner huge subsidies that allow U.S. farmers to undercut the global market and crush struggling cotton growers around the world.

Beware the lanternfly

Bloomberg Businessweek

A bizarre new invasive species, the spotted lanternfly, is terrifying the hardwood and fruit industries up and down the eastern seaboard. The lanternfly “is a mothlike insect about an inch long and a half-inch wide,” writes Andrew Zaleski. It “moves in hordes” and “can overwhelm a tree, coating it from root to leaf, feasting on sap before disgorging a glutinous substance that disrupts photosynthesis and kills plants … State and federal entomologists have recommended a few containment strategies, but they don’t yet have a foolproof way to kill, or even count, the bug.” Penn State entomologist Tom Baker calls it “the weirdest, most pernicious insect I’ve ever seen.”

Nitrogen fertilizer is a disaster. A bunch of billionaires are funding an alternative.


Nitrogen-based fertilizer allowed us to feed the world. It is also helping to destroy the world, fouling our drinking water and our air, pumping greenhouse gas into the atmosphere and creating dead zones in our oceans. Now, “[a] pack of startups is racing to market with a means of fixing nitrogen without polluting the Earth,” writes Nathanael Johnson, funded by the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson. The idea is to use bacteria to replace the industrial process that humans have used for more than a century to pull nitrogen from the air and turn it into fertilizer.