SfL’s mission is to advance land-based solutions to global challenges. In doing so, we concentrate on ambitious and aspirational goals such as efforts to end hunger and poverty, ensure good health and well-being for all, scale affordable clean energy and solve the climate crisis here in the United States and abroad. A very tall order further complicated by the fact many of these are co-joined and require large landscape scale action and multistakeholder collaboration.
In our engagement globally with the UN Climate Convention and the Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as with our state and national policy interventions, SfL has repeatedly stated that none of these goals can be achieved if agriculture is not successful. 21st century agriculture involves more than just food, feed and fiber production. It also involves improving food and nutrition security, filtering and storing water, sequestering carbon, enhancing biodiversity and delivering many other high value ecosystem services, not the least of which is improved livelihoods for the men and women who manage our farms, ranches and forests.
So how can we best enable agriculture to be successful? It starts with embracing pragmatic Guiding Principles to guide policy and program development and investing in climate smart agriculture solution pathways that will enable U.S. farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to sustainably intensify production, improve resilience and simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As we write this opinion piece, the Administration and the Congress are negotiating what level of federal investment is needed to, among other objectives, rebuild the economy, recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and combat climate change. Whatever final compromises are reached, the high priority climate smart agriculture investments included in the House and Senate bills must be retained.
Among these investments are a new $5 billion program that would pay farmers $25 per acre for five years to plant cover crops and an additional $2 billion dollars for conservation technical assistance. USDA programs aimed at preserving resources and stemming climate change would get $22.3 billion in new spending, including $9 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, $7.5 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and $4.1 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program. Some $600 million in the bill would be set aside for a new USDA program that would measure the impact of conservation practices on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration. It’s an outlay aimed at bolstering department plans for a Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Program, an initiative to give stewards ways of marketing commodities as climate smart. Also included are $27 billion for forestry programs and $25 billion for clean energy and other initiatives that address climate change.
SfL board member Pat O’Toole, a Wyoming rancher who has seen up close the impact of climate change – record setting drought has plagued much of the West – recently told Congress that policy makers should listen to the on-the-ground experiences of farmers, ranchers, foresters, as well as their collaborating conservation partners. Those who best understand the need for decisive action can serve as guides to ensure that funds broadly dedicated to conservation and restoration are best utilized to the benefit of ecosystem function, the vitality of local communities, and the health of working lands.
As the debate around the Build Back Better Act comes to a head, SfL urges our collaborating partners to call on lawmakers to preserve the agricultural investments that will enable farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to bloom, grow and emerge as a primary solution pathway towards the attainment of sustainable development goals. It’s time to revalue agriculture for all it can be and do and accelerate the 21st Century Agriculture Renaissance with prudent climate smart agriculture investments.