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Committee holds hearing on agriculture’s role in climate change

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By Lea Mayer

On Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis held a hearing on agriculture’s ability to positively impact and mitigate the effects of climate change. Entitled, “Solving the Climate Crisis: Opportunities in Agriculture,” the hearing introduced key components in Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Improving management practices, bettering soil health, and enhancing carbon sequestration were among the most viable solutions to the current climate crisis.

The witnesses participating in the hearing included Dr. Jennifer Moore-Kucera, Climate Initiative Director with American Farmland Trust, Fred Yoder, farmer and co-chair of Solutions from the Land, Tina Owens, Senior Director of Agricultural Funding and Communications for Danone North America, and Viral Amin, Vice President of Commercial Development and Strategy at DTE.

During the hearing, the Committee and witnesses emphasized that agriculture plays a fundamental role in our well-being as a nation. There has been a recent shift in how we view agriculture, from being seen solely as a means of production to being at the forefront of economic and environmental prosperity. Agriculture is responsible for roughly 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Farmers are in dire need of adapting their agricultural practices and can play a critical role in developing a more sustainable future. By using CSA practices such as no-till, planting cover crops, and diversifying crop rotations, agriculture could mitigate such emissions through carbon sequestration. By storing carbon in the soil, farmers both improve their soil health and thus increase their yields, which are incentives with long-term benefits.

By storing carbon in the soil, farmers both improve their soil health and thus increase their yields, which are incentives with long-term benefits.

Several USDA programs ranging from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) have all been monumental in supporting sustainable farming practices. EQIP aids farmers in both technical and financial assistance toward increasing their conservation services, whereas CRP pays farmers to voluntarily retire land from production. Many of these federal programs received expanded funding under the 2018 Farm Bill, and were championed by the witnesses during the hearing.

Each witness spoke of the need for farmers to be a part of solving the climate crisis. Dr. Moore-Kucera expressed the urgency for Congress to view agriculture as a key partner in combating the climate crisis by developing a comprehensive climate bill or integrating a transformational farm bill by expanding current conservation programs through additional funding. These funds can increase science-based research, as well as increase the number of management personnel. In addition, Dr. Moore-Kucera believes that leveraging other federal programs such as Iowa’s crop insurance pilot program—which offers reductions on crop insurance premiums or cover crop adoptions to farmers—are pivotal and must be incorporated into existing policies.

Yoder agreed with Dr. Moore-Kucera’s testimony, stating that, “there are many good people in these positions, we just need more of them.” Yoder explained that there are numerous CSA tactics being implemented on farms across the United States, however, there is a lack of technical assistance needed for the writing and implementation of such tactics. Additionally, productivity is not a one-size-fits-all issue in modern-day agriculture. Instead, focusing on the scalability of these programs, adding safe harbor provisions and prioritizing soil health over productivity are essential toward effective climate-smart agriculture.

“There are many good people in these positions, we just need more of them.”

Owens was a strong supporter of improving soil health and proposed that Congress should develop complementary policy to the farm bill and focus primarily on soil health’s economic resilience and environmental impact. Owens identified the immense economic and environmental benefits of CSA when farmers implement them over the course of three to four years. She believes that incentivizing farmers is crucial and that, “covering contracts over multiple practices over multiple years” is of the utmost importance in order to ensure a return in investments to farms. Amin also expanded on the economic benefits, shifting the focus from carbon dioxide emissions to methane. He believes that proper manure management, alongside technical assistance needs, can bolster agriculture to become a commodity for storing these greenhouse gases as opposed to emitting them.

The benefits of Climate Smart Agriculture are apparent to farmers and policymakers alike. The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is taking significant measures to plan and execute new policies that will make agriculture a key player in combating the global climate crisis. With scientific data and proper management expansion, farmers can pave the way for building a more sustainable future, as well as fueling a new agricultural economic market.

Lea Mayer is a policy and communications intern with NACD and can be reached at intern[at]nacdnet.org.

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