Election Campaigns Can Boost Role of Agriculture in Combatting a Changing Climate

August 28, 2019

Rural America drew a considerable amount of attention in the last presidential election. President Trump won the White House in large part due to the support he received from voters in this nation’s vast non-metropolitan areas. As a result, most of this year’s wide range of candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 have put a campaign focus on the nation’s farms, ranches, forestlands and the communities these sectors support.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was among those seeking his party’s nomination before he left the race last week. But he says he will continue to promote his package of extensive policy proposals – Growing Rural Prosperity – aimed at rural America and include a call for advancing the tools that farmers, ranchers and foresters need to adapt to and combat a changing climate.

Virtually all candidates for the nation’s highest office have called for the expansion of rural infrastructure, the renegotiation of trade deals that are more favorable to U.S. farmers, the extension of rural broadband and, to some extent, the cutting of carbon emissions in the agriculture industry. Inslee has made the case, like Solutions from the Land, that those who work the land are in a perfect position to moderate the threat posed by a changing climate.

But even without the stage provided by a presidential candidacy, Inslee’s wide-ranging and detailed plans related to climate change will continue to influence the campaign discussions going forward. Specifically, the proposals called for:

  • Enact a Carbon Farming initiative to reward farmers for the environmental services they provide by removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere to build healthier soils, and by livestock operations capturing methane.
  • Implement crop insurance reforms to account for climate risk in its actuarial tables, thereby incentivizing soil health and other conservation practices and guarding America’s farmers and its food supplies against future floods, drought, and extreme weather events.
  • Triple funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to $3 billion annually and expand other USDA programs to promote climate-smart agriculture.
  • Establish a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Agriculture (ARPA-Ag) and increase funding to Agricultural Extensions Services and land-grant colleges for next-generation agricultural innovations.
  • Create new standards – including a Clean & Renewable Fuels Standard (CRFS) – to drive the deployment of advanced, low-carbon biofuels and sustainable bio-based products.

The influence of Inslee’s policy proposals can expect to be heard in the responses to questions on the climate that will be addressed to the remaining candidates, many of whom will be required to answer with a degree of specificity not yet seen in any other proposals issued to date.

Inslee rightfully prefaces his proposals by citing the “powerful economic headwinds” rural America is facing. Among them are trade wars that ultimately hurt the U.S. agricultural economy, and the “unfortunate” EPA decision to continue granting so-called “economic hardship” waivers – free passes that set aside biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – to refineries owned by multi-national, multi-billion-dollar oil companies.

In addition to damaging the bottom line of producers, the RFS waivers, which result in large volumes of ethanol and biodiesel being taken off the books, undercut a principal way that agriculture is fighting climate change – offering the nation’s transportation system the means to reduce and avoid greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by providing alternative fuels with much lower carbon intensity than petroleum-based fuels.

It’s encouraging that many presidential candidates are embracing agricultural landscapes as major solution platforms for combatting climate change, which is wreaking havoc on crops, small businesses, communities, and homes – through floods, hurricanes, forest fires, drought, arctic blasts and blazing heat waves.

Fresh evidence of the threat that a changing climate poses to farmers and the food supply system can be found in two recent studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: one study found that climate change could cut corn production worldwide nearly in half, and a second study found that climate change could cut vegetable production by 35 percent.

Inslee may be out of the race, but the proposals he has put forth that would optimize the role of agriculture in stemming climate change while boosting production deserve a national spotlight as the campaigns wind their way through to next November’s election. We urge our SfL alliance members and all who hold a stake in our nation’s working lands to make clear to all candidates – be they national, state or local – that making this kind of commitment to enabling policies can optimize the capabilities of agriculture and forestry to address climate change and help achieve global sustainable development goals.

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