As an organization with long experience in developing and advancing aspirational goals that can help U.S. agriculture, such as the 25x’25 renewable energy campaign, we take great interest in President Biden’s 30x’30 goal. He laid out the objective in an executive order issued Jan. 27, which, among other initiatives, called upon federal officials to develop a plan to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by the year 2030.
Since the goal was announced, concerns continue to be raised that the measure represented a “land grab” by the federal government. Federal officials have worked steadily to allay those concerns, emphasizing that the plan would offer protection of private, working lands strictly through voluntary programs.
While there is significant potential in the proposal, more information is needed before SfL, a farmer-led organization that promotes agriculture’s role in stemming climate change and achieving sustainable development goals, can sign on.
At the heart of the executive order and the 30x’30 proposal is the pursuit of measures to counter the changing climate.
If done right, achieving the goal can lead to greater benefits in curbing the changes occurring in our climate and building great sustainability in our ability to produce food, feed and fiber. If done wrong, it could needlessly sideline otherwise viable, sustainably maintained land needed to meet the need to feed, clothe and provide shelter for rapidly growing global population.
Among needs that must be met to assure the goal can be reached voluntarily is farmer and rancher input. An initiative as bold as 30x’30 can’t be accomplished by government edict. It must be fashioned collaboratively with farmers and ranchers empowered to co-create its foundation and framework. It also will require increased funding for USDA’s working lands initiatives – the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP), among others – that growers can leverage to make their operations more productive while enhancing their sustainability. Data from USDA shows in 2020 alone, CSP helped support conservation tillage, crop rotation, cover crops, nutrient and pest management, and other activities on 14 million acres.
Assurances of the voluntary nature of the 30x’30 goal were offered as late as last Friday when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack devoted a significant portion of a call with reporters to the issue. He said soliciting recommendations from those who work the land – the 60-day public comment period on provisions laid out in the executive order closed this week – will give federal officials the ability to understand how best reach their conservation objectives.
Farm groups have generally taken a wait and see approach on the proposal, expressing appreciation for the administration’s efforts to hear from producers. But they emphasize that any support is based on maintaining the effort as voluntary among producers.
While the public comment period on the 30x’30 proposal may have expired, we encourage the administration, and particularly USDA and DOI, to seek more input from stakeholders. SfL stands ready to help facilitate a dialogue on the initiative with agriculture, forestry and conservation leaders across the country. At the end of the day, for 30x’30 and other land-related, climate change proposals to work, the hearts of farmers and ranchers must be in them.