As 2018 closes out, advocates for the role agriculture can play in facing a changing climate can feel encouraged by developments on the international and domestic stages.
Global climate negotiators in Katowice, Poland, came to a final agreement late last week on steps aimed at ensuring a committed pursuit of goals established under the initial pact signed in Paris in 2015. It’s an agreement that for the first time fully acknowledges and accepts the climate smart agriculture (CSA) practices that can help ensure sustainable intensive production in a changing climate, make our working landscapes more resilient to volatile weather caused by climate change, and reduce emissions that contribute to a changing climate.
The agreement hammered out at the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reinforces the Koronivia Joint Work Program on Agriculture, a plan first adopted last year at COP23 that will see to the development and implementation of new strategies for adaptation and mitigation within the agriculture sector.
The global agreement will underscore the need to keep those who work the land at the center of all discussions and decision-making in the development of agricultural policy addressing climate change.
On the domestic front, both houses of Congress this week passed by wide, bipartisan margins the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, legislation that lays out federal farm policy for the next five years. President Trump is scheduled to sign the bill today. Important to CSA advocates are provisions in the $867-billion measure that can be used to take advantage of land-based climate solutions offered by agriculture, keeping working landscapes vital while reducing carbon emissions.
One provision that may prove to be critical to agriculture’s adaptation and mitigation efforts down the road is a pilot Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). This program encourages farmers to implement and document the true greenhouse benefits of crop production, which can make a meaningful impact in the fight against climate change. The EQIP provision will incentivize farmers to adopt smart soil management practices that improve soil health to increase drought resiliency, improve nutrient utilization and enhance soil carbon sequestration.
Underlining the significance of this EQIP provision is its endorsement by a wide range of organizations, including the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In addition to the program’s potential environmental benefits, advocates see it as offering an economic value which, if realized, will properly credit farmers for their ability to sequester carbon and participate in low carbon fuel markets.
The final bill drops House efforts to debilitate longstanding Energy Title (still Title IX) programs, continuing mandatory funding for a number of important programs to help diversify rural economies that have seen revenues fall for five years. For example, the legislation continues significant mandatory funding ($50 million annually) for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helps install renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage technologies on farms, ranches and in rural businesses. Programs are also available that can grow the number of commercially viable bio-based alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, chemicals, plastics and other products.
SfL has been a proud advocate of agriculture’s role in delivering clean energy resources and responding to a changing climate – whether it’s pushing global negotiators to engage the sector in climate policy development or vigorously supporting farm energy and conservation programs. We encourage producers and their organizations to join the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) and keep their hand in play during global climate negotiations. And we call on those in the agriculture sector to keep reminding lawmakers on Capitol Hill of their obligation to fully enable the production of food, feed and fiber, and help restore rural America’s economic health.