Significance of Ag’s Role in Addressing Climate Change Grows in Congress This Week

May 23, 2019

Blog posted on May 23, 2019 by Solutions from the Land

A hearing held this week by the Senate Agriculture Committee on the impact of climate change on the ag sector marks what is hoped will be the start of a serious effort by Congress to address the needs of farmers, ranchers and forestland owners as they face increasingly turbulent weather conditions.

Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and his committee’s members should be commended for examining in a bipartisan manner the huge challenges posed by changing conditions and for bringing to the table consideration of the vast contributions the ag sector can offer in combatting climate change.

While the witness list for Tuesday’s hearing was relatively short, those testifying were nonetheless able to relay significant messages. Of particular import was the testimony of Matt Rezac, a fourth-generation farmer from Weston, Nebraska, who, with his family, farms about 2,500 acres in corn and soybeans. Citing the economic significance those who work the land attribute to properly caring for it, Rezac told the committee that farmers recognize the importance of technology and innovation in ensuring their operations maximize efficient production.

“Because we’re embracing technology and because we are willing to work together, farmers are ready to lead on climate solutions,” the Nebraska grower said.

But Rezac also emphasized a point long made by Solutions from the Land (SfL): producers today face challenges in the marketplace – income lost due to trade disputes, planting disruption attributable to unprecedented weather-related disasters, among others – so steep that they can only focus on sustaining their operations and staying in business.

To maximize agriculture’s contribution to stemming climate change, policies must be adopted that incentivize farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to move to the management practices – alternating grazing lands, cropland rotation, cover crops, and forestland conservation efforts that mitigate wildfires, among others – that serve to curb or avoid emissions that cause changes to our climate.

“It is critical that climate solutions make economic sense for farmers,” Rezac testified, underscoring the need for policy help from Washington.

On the House side, a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis created when Democrats took majority control this year held a hearing today on “creating a climate-resilient America.” Among those testifying was Matt Russell, executive director of the Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, a nonprofit organization mobilizing Iowa farmers to become leaders in the movement for climate action. Russell, a fifth-generation producer who farms with his spouse in rural Lacona, called on Congress to adopt policies that enable farmers and the marketplace to develop solutions to climate change.

Under questioning from committee Chair Kathy Castor (D-FL), Russell, the former resilient-agriculture coordinator at Drake’s Agricultural Law Center, said widening the role of farmers in addressing climate change “doesn’t mean throwing out our agricultural systems. It just means leaning in to what we already have.”

Russell said practices that can be expanded through policy support include conservation tillage; greater implementation permaculture, including cover crops; managed grazing and other forms of livestock integration that increase biological activity in the soil; extending crop rotations (including adding other crops into the mix); and developing renewable energy.

Also expected to raise the profile of solutions to climate change offered by agriculture is a Midwest Collegiate Climate Summit that was announced by Bloomberg Philanthropies and Washington University in St. Louis this week. Set for early next year, the summit will draw together university officials, local governments and businesses from across the ag-dominated region to focus on “mitigating the effects of climate change and transitioning to 100-percent clean energy.”

Bottom line: Agriculture is emerging as a high-level source of solutions to climate change across the globe. Congressional hearings, though in their early stages; active efforts at the state level to incorporate the ag sector in dealing with a changing climate; and multiple events like the Midwest summit are taking place across the country. These efforts will continue to drive home how agriculture can sustainably increase productivity and livelihoods, enhance adaptive capacity and improve resilience, deliver ecosystem services that sequester carbon, reduce and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance natural resource systems.

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