By Jenny Hopkinson, NFU Senior Government Relations Representative
It seems everyone in Washington is talking about agriculture’s role in combatting climate change.
Across the government, officials are embracing the need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil health – both of which are key for addressing the climate crisis. This summer, there was a bipartisan congressional hearing on a new bill that would bolster in participation agricultural carbon markets. House and Senate Democrats issued climate reports that acknowledge the potential of agriculture in curbing emissions and increasing resilience. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is revising its research and conservation agenda to have greater focus on sustainability. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is touting his climate plan on the campaign trail.
These efforts to set the stage for federal action on climate change are reassuring, certainly, but also long overdue. Climate change is actively affecting American farmers and ranchers and the rural communities in which they live. While Washington has been discussing policy options this summer, extreme weather events have damaged cities, towns, and rural communities, as well as crops and livestock. Heavy rains in the Midwest caused dams to collapse flooding nearby fields and communities. The wildfires raging in California rank as the second largest in the state’s history. The Southwest is in the midst of a megadrought, leaving ranchers scrambling to feed their herds. Almost half of Iowa’s corn crop was devastated a strong derecho tore through the state. And parts of the Gulf Coast are struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Laura.
The private sector has started to recognize the challenges to their business and supply chains, and some are making moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions, engage with voluntary carbon markets, and meet sustainability goals. Reflecting this trend, Bayer AG – the world’s largest agricultural seed company – announced in July that it was launching its own carbon credit purchasing program, joining a growing number of voluntary markets working with farmers to sequester carbon.
Lawmakers’ and administration officials’ growing focus on climate change also comes as the country prepares for a presidential election in November. More than half of voters say climate change is a major threat to the United States. Much of the work by lawmakers and presidential candidates is aimed at laying the groundwork for quick action after the November election should they win.
Here’s what’s happened on climate change policy this summer:
• The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released its report “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.” The plan calls for increased funding, support and coordination for USDA voluntary incentive-based conservation programs, and on-farm emissions reduction efforts, among a slew of other initiatives.
• Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, introduced the Growing Climate Solutions Act. The bill creates facilitates farmers’ participation in carbon credit markets by establishing a certification program for third-party technical service providers. It also creates an advisory committee to help reduce barriers for carbon markets and resolve challenges faced by farmers. National Farmers Union (NFU) supports the legislation as it would “help family farmers and ranchers engage in the market opportunities presented by carbon sequestration and would lend legitimacy to these voluntary carbon markets.”
• Democratic Presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden released a $2 trillion climate plan that calls for expanding biofuels use and increasing agricultural land resilience and carbon sequestration through precision technologies and other efforts.
• USDA solicited comments on research needs for farmers and ranchers as part of its Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA). While the AIA doesn’t mention climate change, it does aim to reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture, build “landscape resiliency,” and “enhance carbon sequestration through soil health” and other practices. Meanwhile, the agency also released the “Climate Indicators for Agriculture” report, which lays out 20 indicators of climate-related stress on production agriculture. This information can be used to track the effects of climate change on farms and ranches.
• The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis released “The Case for Climate Action; Building a clean Economy for the American People,” which touted the role for USDA programs, biofuels, the bioeconomy, and carbon markets to curb the effects of climate change.
While there is still a long way to go before passage and enactment of comprehensive national climate policy, the actions of lawmakers, USDA, and the private sector this summer are moving the conversation on climate change in the right direction.
Learn more about what farmers are doing to act on climate and how you can fight for better climate policy at NFU’s Climate Change Resource Center.
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