Congressional lawmakers have begun their August recess, returning home to hear from their constituents on issues that impact lives and communities. Senators are home this week, while members of the House will be in their districts for the entire month. It’s an opportune time for stakeholders engaged in food, feed, fiber and energy production to personally make the case for policies that maximize the solutions available from the land to meet growing challenges from a changing climate.
U.S. agriculture is well on its way into the 21st century and the sector is at a critical juncture. The economic downturn America’s farmers have been experiencing over the past four years demonstrates their vulnerability to changing conditions, including often uncertain market forces that impact commodity supply and demand. And in recent decades, changes in climate have placed additional pressures on productivity, net farm income and soil and water resources.
Given those uncertainties, it is critical for stakeholders to impress upon policymakers that they must provide U.S. farmers, ranchers and forestland owners with the tools – programs, funding mechanisms, incentives, tax breaks and research, among others – needed to meet challenges that are only intensifying with time.
As House and Senate conferees hammer out a final version of the five-year Farm Bill to be taken up when all lawmakers are back in Washington next month, there is a window of opportunity for stakeholders to drive home a message to their respective elected federal representatives: the time to implement forward thinking policy is now.
In the next Farm Bill, lawmakers should incorporate provisions that promote adaptive land management tools and practices that give farmers the ability to intensify production to meet the needs of a global population expected to climb more than 30 percent over the next three decades, reaching nearly 10 billion people by 2050. Policies and programs to help make agricultural operations more resilient to the consequences of a changing climate, including extreme drought (and the wildfires that result), harsh flooding and other violent weather extremes should also be included and funded.
Other good examples include policies and programs that promote production practices that allow farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as no-till and cover crops) and simultaneously improve profitability, including the production of biofuels that emit significantly less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based transportation fuels.
Stakeholders can tell their elected officials that another critical way policy can better enable farmers to meet the growing challenges is to give them the ability to develop and implement management practices that can increase soil health. In addition to boosting productivity and resilience, improving soil health can also enhance carbon sequestration, which can boost a producer’s bottom line. Restoring and advancing soil health can reduce runoff into neighboring waters, increase organic content and enhance biodiversity, nutrient cycling and other ecosystem services.
Lawmakers should be called upon to fully restore specific provisions of the Farm Bill, including the measure’s longstanding Energy Title. The Senate version of the Farm Bill rejects provisions in the House bill that essentially would drop the title, move its programs under the under the Rural Development title and strip these critical programs of mandatory funding, a “safety net” that has helped them survive during times of indiscriminate budget cutting.
Stakeholders should call on lawmakers to give the Energy Title the respect it is due, as it has helped farmers, ranchers, small businesses and rural communities generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic development through initiatives like the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP has supported more than 15,000 energy-saving and clean energy-producing projects in rural areas across the country since its inception. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which supports U.S. cellulosic biofuel production; and the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program are other Energy Title initiatives that are critical in their contributions to agriculture’s economic health.
The Conservation Title of the new Farm Bill needs to be reinforced to meet the growing demand of producers who want to participate in initiatives like the Conservation Stewardship Program – voluntary opportunities for agricultural producers to better protect water resources and soil quality.
Properly structured and funded, these Farm Bill programs provide some of the means our government can use to assist – not impede – U.S. producers in delivering the climate-smart agriculture solutions advocated by Solutions from the Land and others. SfL urges partners and agricultural stakeholders to make sure policymakers get the message.