May 28, 2021
The Scoop magazine reports:
Farmers are among the most-qualified people to help address greenhouse gases (GHGs) and related climate issues, according to a new report commissioned by the Farm Journal Foundation.
"The science tells us we have to rapidly scale up regenerative agriculture and climate-smart practices, like cover crops," said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow on Thursday, during a webinar announcing the findings. "(But) in order to engage farmers and ranchers in meaningful ways, we need proposals that pair sustainability with profitability."
While U.S. agriculture contributes about 10% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the entire national economy, farmers could greatly reduce those emissions if they were provided with the right government incentives, according to the report, which was co-authored by John Reilly of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and Stephanie Mercier, senior policy adviser at Farm Journal Foundation.
Expanding existing government programs could enable farmers to become more sustainable - helping them improve their soil health, increase livestock efficiency, convert animal waste into clean energy, and decrease reliance on fossil fuels. Farm businesses run on tight margins and are affected by volatile commodity markets, so farmers need incentives - such as tax breaks, cost share, technical assistance, or favorable loan terms - in order for sustainable investments to make financial sense.
"Farmers are already feeling the effects of climate change, with U.S. growing areas experiencing a series of droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events in recent years," Reilly said. "These conditions are only expected to intensify. The U.S. should develop and expand programs that help farmers prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, and enable them to make investments to mitigate future climate change."
In developing the report, Reilly and Mercier made these four recommendations:
Increase funding for federal programs that help farmers reduce GHG emissions. These would include programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and the Conservation Loan Program.
Increase funding for agricultural research that helps farmers adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. Funding could prioritize investigating methods of reducing methane emissions by livestock, making methane digesters more affordable to small and medium-sized farming operations, and evaluating the economic benefits to farmers from adopting climate-smart practices. For plant research, key focus areas also include plant genetic diversity, climate modeling, soil health, nutrient and water-use efficiency, and addressing pests and diseases
The federal government should also support private sector initiatives by supporting research into developing better tools such as sensors for measuring and monitoring changes in GHG emissions or SOC content in soils. In order to better leverage these dollars, policymakers should consider allocating at least some of the increased funding to be distributed through the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which has demonstrated the efficacy of the public-private partnership funding model.
Reintroduce and pass the Growing Climate Solutions Act. The legislation would set up a program to help create a pool of accredited technical assistance providers and third party verifiers to help farmers. Once up and running, this program would enable USDA to provide transparency, legitimacy, and informal endorsement of such personnel that help private landowners generate marketable carbon credits through a variety of agricultural and forestry related practices.
Make it more affordable for farmers to adopt more radical - and highly impactful - interventions to improve their energy efficiency. In particular, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan program has the potential to have a much greater impact if financial and technical support were increased to enable more farmers to participate. In addition, subsidies for farm-level renewable energy generation, such as through methane digesters and wind turbines, should be either added to existing programs or authorized through a new program.
"There is no shortage of solutions to help the U.S. agricultural industry fight climate change, but farmers need support to put these solutions into practice," Mercier said. "Broadening access to government incentives and increased public investment in agricultural research will be crucial for the industry to become a sustainability success story."
The complete report is available here: https://bit.ly/3v9gn0C