A Sensible Approach to Climate Change Policy

January 17, 2019

A headline coming out of the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in New Orleans over the past weekend was that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), announced he would hold a hearing on climate change and agriculture.

Meanwhile, in response to an inquiry from Politico, the office of House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), who has historically been hesitant to associate climate change with farming and ranching, said the congressman this year supports “practical, workable solutions on climate issues.”

Both chairmen should be commended for their willingness to take on climate issues. Their acknowledgement indicates a somewhat more receptive environment for the climate change debate that seems to be developing on Capitol Hill (the House also reestablished a climate change “crisis” committee). As a result, a window appears to have opened between the polar opposites of abject denial of climate change on one end and over-zealous, “silver-bullet” advocates on the other whose proposals will likely prove harmful to the ag sector’s ability to produce the food, feed, fiber, energy and ecosystem services required in the decades ahead.

That opening now allows for the presentation and consideration of a more centered and pragmatic approach like that promoted by Solutions from the Land (SfL) and the other members of the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA). NACSAA is a producer-led alliance focused on utilizing climate-smart agriculture (CSA) strategies to enhance the adaptive capacity of North America agriculture. The three pillars of CSA are: 1) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods (i.e. sustainable intensification); 2) enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience; and 3) delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.

Across the planet there is growing recognition and awareness that global climate and sustainable development goals cannot be met by simply reducing emissions from the power generation, transportation and manufacturing sectors. A new solution platform is urgently needed, wherein working and natural lands are managed to produce needed goods and services to sustain a growing world and simultaneously sink carbon. To capitalize on the near-term and high-value solutions that America’s farms, ranches and forests can deliver, smart enabling policies are needed. These policies will help those who directly manage land to sustainably intensify production and meet the needs of a global population expected to climb more than 30 percent over the next three decades, reaching nearly 10 billion people by 2050.

There is an additional urgency to adopting policies like those promoted by SfL and NACSAA – an insistence driven by the need to make agricultural operations more resilient to the consequences of a changing climate, including extreme drought (and resulting wildfires), harsh flooding and other violent weather extremes.

The importance of action now is also underscored by the economic downturn America’s farmers have been experiencing over the past five years – a slump that demonstrates the sector’s vulnerability to changing conditions, whether they be from volatile weather that places additional pressures on productivity, net farm income and soil and water resources, or market forces that impact commodity supply and demand.

These growing uncertainties make it critical for policymakers to provide U.S. farmers, ranchers and forestland owners with the tools – programs, funding mechanisms, incentives, tax breaks and research, among others – that are needed to meet challenges that are only intensifying with time.

For example, policy makers can adopt pragmatic policies and programs that encourage production and management practices that can increase soil health. In addition to boosting productivity and resilience, improving soil health can also enhance carbon sequestration. It can reduce runoff into neighboring waters, increase organic content and enhance biodiversity, nutrient cycling and other ecosystem services. Just as importantly, keeping soil healthy can boost a producer’s bottom line.

SfL calls on partners and stakeholders to reach out to lawmakers during this window of opportunity on Capitol Hill and make the case for what are essentially politically moderate, practical and sensible solutions to climate change that can benefit farmers, ranchers and forestland owners. These policy responses will help ensure the production of food and other commodities that will be needed to meet the coming surge in global demand.

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