New Administration Appears Ready to Scale up Ag Solutions

November 13, 2020

With Election Day behind us, the opportunity is now here to renew the nation’s forward progress towards solutions for the major challenges faced by the United States and the world – climate change, natural resource depletion and hunger being prominent among them.

As SfL has long asserted, addressing these pressing issues will require a fully cooperative effort involving lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle. Also required for our nation to move forward are new kinds of “uncommon collaboration” that incorporate a range of interests as wide as the range of sustainable development goals at risk.

The co-joined climate, hunger and health challenges the world is facing today require integrated systems solutions. The old single-issue, siloed management style of problem solving will not address the multiple problems we face.

More multiple-faceted approaches to climate change are fortunately reflected in proposals under consideration by the incoming administration that call for action to be taken by a broad range of federal agencies. A guidance memo for USDA, authored by former high-level agency officials for the Climate 21 Project, is just one example of the cases being made to the incoming administration to utilize the vast, under-recognized federal potential to address climate issues.

An item under consideration is a “carbon bank” overseen by the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, which would pay farmers and forest owners to store carbon in their soils and lands. Another proposal calls for the creation of a White House National Climate Council, which would have the same standing in the new administration as the current Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council.

One prospective climate policy at the Treasury Department would promote carbon reductions through tax, budget and regulatory policies; another initiative at the Transportation Department would push electric cars and trucks. Meanwhile, the president-elect has vowed to “promote and advance renewable energy, ethanol, and other biofuels to help rural America and our nation’s farmers.” Biden has cited the biofuel industry’s objections to the millions of gallons of demand lost when the Trump administration’s EPA granted an unprecedented number of small refinery exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel blending requirements. He says he “will honor the critical role the renewable fuel industry plays in supporting the rural economy and the leadership role American agriculture will play in our fight against climate change.”

Many are offering ideas for addressing climate change – driven in part by the National Climate Assessment released in late 2018 that warned climate change will take a huge toll on U.S. agriculture with more drought, heat and more extreme rainfall.

Farmer and ranch organizations and multi-stakeholder sustainability platforms like Field to Market are also stepping up and providing proactive leadership in support of climate smart agriculture systems that will enable agricultural landscapes to produce not only food, feed, fiber and energy but also clean water and air, enhanced biodiversity and solutions to these challenges.

Companies like Danone, General Mills, Nestle and PepsiCo have gone a step further and signed a United Nations-sponsored pledge to set more ambitious emissions targets, aimed at keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Tyson Foods Inc. is among two dozen major food, beverage and apparel companies that have joined the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a project to develop the first science-based global standard for corporate net-zero target setting to encourage farm and forestry suppliers to help companies meet their net-zero targets.

In September, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer (and a major presence in rural America with its huge market for agricultural products), set a 2040 target for zero emissions – a move which will put major pressure on its suppliers and entails the protection, management or restoration of at least 50 million acres of land. Smithfield Foods Inc., a vertically-integrated pork producer and processor, said in September it would make all of its company-owned operations carbon neutral by 2030, one of the most aggressive targets of any company in the country. Fruit and vegetable producer Dole Foods says its farms will be carbon neutral by the end of this decade.

The incredible breadth and diversity of effort coming out of the farm and food production sector demonstrates that a new era is emerging for U.S. agriculture, one in which farmers, ranchers and foresters can be valued and rewarded financially for all of the goods and services sustainably managed operations deliver from the land. The incoming administration has given every indication that it is ready to enable agriculture solutions to address the multiple challenges of our day, and SfL stands ready to help President-elect Biden scale all that agriculture can deliver.

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