Today is National Agriculture Day. Both the Agriculture Council of America, an organization composed of leaders in the agriculture, food and fiber communities, and our annual observance of the industry were established 46 years ago to increase public awareness of the essential role farmers and ranchers play in our society.
Put another way, the day’s goal is to remind sometimes oblivious consumers that food does not just magically appear on grocery store shelves without the hard labor of the men and women who produce the fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and dairy products that not only feed our nation, but also the world.
Over the course of the day, commodity groups, schools and food-security advocacy groups hold events that help consumers understand how food, fiber and energy is produced from our nation’s farms, ranches and forestlands. That, in turn, aims to generate appreciation of the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products. Furthermore, the events underscore the value of agriculture’s role in maintaining a strong economy.
Beyond its traditional roles, agriculture in recent years has earned some well-deserved attention for the full range of solutions the sector can bring in the face of a changing climate. Landscape-wide strategies and practices like those advocated by Solutions from the Land have been proven to increase the ability of working lands to reduce their emissions and, in fact, sequester carbon at significant levels, all while sustainably meeting the growing demand for food, feed, fiber and energy.
While National Agriculture Day is directed at the general public, it can only be hoped that elected federal officials and policy makers will get the message as well. Despite President Trump’s declarations of support for our nation’s farmers and ranchers, the budget proposals for fiscal year 2020 from this administration for the third year in a row would massively cut the programs and research that have supported agriculture’s efforts to address climate change and adapt to the challenging weather patterns a changing climate can generate.
The president’s proposal would kill programs like USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which promotes the adoption of cleaner, lower-cost renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. The budget plan would also kill the DOE’s Loan Programs Office, which helps promote investment in major wind, solar and advanced biofuel projects that are most often sited in rural America. The White House would end the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which bolsters the science behind clean energy projects. In addition to cutting DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget by 70 percent, the White House spending plan would bring an end to USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program, which facilitates land management practices that improve soil quality important to stemming emissions.
All of these are programs that can improve an operation’s bottom line – something rural America needs after a year in which the U.S. agricultural economy continued its downward spiral, falling to 50 percent below that of 2014.
The potential good news is that, like the previous two years, Congress will ignore these proposals and sustain the programs targeted by Trump. But the bad news is that there remains a lack of White House willingness to secure and build on clean energy and emission reduction initiatives – the president has made clear his disdain for the science behind climate change his own government has identified as a risk. That position does nothing to help the corporations, cities and states that say they are ready to take on the challenge with investments and policies.
Fortunately, there appears to be a growing momentum among lawmakers in Washington to take on and discuss the challenge of climate change. The latest, high-profile evidence of a shift away from the “all or nothing” rhetoric that has dominated the debate in Congress is an op-ed in The Washington Post last week by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a conservative Republican from the oil-heavy state of Alaska, and Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, the nation’s second largest coal producing state.
The senators state: “There is no question that climate change is real or that human activities are driving much of it.” Murkowski and Manchin say they are seeking “bipartisan” and “responsible” solutions to climate change. It suggests an environment in Congress that can offer a great opportunity to advance properly structured and funded programs that will assist U.S. ag producers in delivering climate-smart agriculture solutions. In the spirit of National Agriculture Day, SfL urges stakeholders to remind their representatives in Washington that the 21st-century challenge of climate change require the kind of 21st-century solutions that our farmers, ranchers and forestland owners can provide.