Agriculture Takes a Key Seat at the Climate Policy Table

October 31, 2019

The U.S. agriculture sector in general – and specifically Solutions from the Land (SfL) – are awash with gratitude today after a key congressional committee on Wednesday gave farmers a voice at the table in a discussion of policies that can be implemented to address a changing climate.

Rep. Kathy Castor, who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, invited Fred Yoder, a fourth-generation farmer from Ohio who is an SfL co-chair, to speak at a hearing held yesterday afternoon to address the topic: Solving the Climate Crisis: Opportunities in Agriculture.

Castor, who represents Florida’s 14th Congressional District, has more than just a passing interest in the role of agriculture in fighting climate change. She attended and addressed a producer forum held in August in Gainesville that highlighted the climate challenges now pressing Florida’s farms, ranches, and forests, as well as steps producers and others are taking in response to the growing threat. Castor’s remarks at the forum (co-sponsored by SfL and staged by the panel of state agricultural and forestry leaders known as the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group) demonstrated her acknowledgment of the role those who work the land play in stemming the growing threat of a changing climate.

Castor’s understanding and foresight gave Yoder and all U.S. growers an opportunity to share with Congress and the nation this week that agriculture is a high-value and near-term solution to climate change challenges. She understands that farmers, ranchers and foresters need to be directly involved in the process of developing climate change policy.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Yoder highlighted that while growers are directly impacted by climate change, they are also uniquely positioned to help deliver solutions.

The SfL leader said that it is critical to overcome the political divisiveness that the topic of climate change can generate and “come together and advance proven, pragmatic and innovative agricultural solutions that benefit producers, the public and the planet.”

Yoder cited the benefits of climate smart agriculture (CSA), an approach promoted by SfL that offers three complementing and interlocking strategies to address climate challenges:

  • Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods;
  • Enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience; and
  • Delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

He reinforced the role of the ag sector in developing effective policies, noting that the reason CSA is an effective strategy for engendering farmer participation and support is that the approach places farmers at the center of all climate discussions and decisions.

Yoder also emphasized a number of guiding principles that should be followed as agricultural response strategies to a changing climate are developed, among them the assertion that science-based decision making should be the foundation for the adoption of climate smart technologies and practices for sustainable agriculture and global food production. He said there is “no silver-bullet solution for enhancing the resilience of agriculture,” asserting that strategies must embrace an approach that involves a wide range of systems, including ecological, transportation and production, among many others.

In his testimony, the SfL leader called on Congress to rebuild the capacity of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), state conservation agencies and local conservation districts to provide the technical assistance needed to write and implement CSA plans. Yoder also said lawmakers should restore USDA’s ability to conduct agricultural and economic research in support of CSA, and provide funding to the nation’s land-grant colleges to expand CSA research and extension work.

While outlining mechanisms through which farmers can deliver climate mitigation services – carbon dioxide captured by crops, grasses and trees and sequestered in the soil, as well as the reduction of emissions resulting from improved agricultural management practices – Yoder also told lawmakers that they can help the U.S. agriculture and forestry sectors avoid and offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuels by promoting the use of biomass to produce renewable energy, fuels and biobased products.

Wednesday’s hearing offered a door through which those who champion the role of farmers, ranchers and foresters in addressing climate change must now push to ensure momentum for the policy platform is built and maintained. The select committee chaired by Castor continues to seek information and recommendations, which can be emailed HERE. We urge stakeholders to reach out to the committee – and to lawmakers at all levels – and press upon them the need to give the agriculture sector the tools and motivation needed to provide these critical services.

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