With the advent of a new administration and Congress, it is a good time to remind those taking office next month of policy recommendations that put the agriculture sector at the forefront in providing solutions to the challenges of climate change.
Any discussions dealing with global issues that affect, or are affected by, agriculture must solicit the input of those within the sector – farmers, ranchers, foresters and members of the agriculture supply chain – to maximize efforts to address the threats posed to producers, the public and the planet.
It’s a conviction held by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-FL, who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (HSCCC). In 2019, she issued a call for recommendations on how best to address the conditions that have sparked violent weather patterns, wildfires, ongoing drought and other threats to our ability to grow food, raise livestock, maintain our forests, protect our homes and property, and sustain our livelihoods.
In response, the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) – a wide range of voices, focuses, and viewpoints from across the U.S., Canadian and Mexican agricultural industries – submitted to the HSCCC last February a series of recommendations to raise up the importance of climate smart agriculture (CSA) and NACSAA’s Guiding Principles in policy development.
NACSAA is a farmer-led coalition, facilitated and supported by Solutions from the Land and other partners, that focuses on helping both producers and the value chain utilize CSA strategies to enhance the adaptive capacity of our food system.
Those strategies range from minor adjustments in existing production to major changes in agricultural systems and best management practices. They are organized around the three CSA pillars:
- Pillar One: Sustainable intensification of production and ecosystem integrity;
- Pillar Two: Adaptations that build resiliency; and
- Pillar Three: Systems that allow farmers to retain and sequester carbon or reduce greenhouse gas emissions and simultaneously improve profitability.
The recommendations were a collaborative effort by NACSAA’s members, calling attention to the profound and critical role agriculture plays in bridging gaps in policy arenas from food security and nutrition, to energy and national security, to rural development and job creation, to environmental protection and climate mitigation.
The recommendations now carry even more importance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the havoc it has generated within our food systems.
Responding to HSCCC calls for policy suggestions relating to the reduction of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, the storage of carbon in the soil, and measures that can help farmers, ranchers and natural resource managers adapt to the impacts of climate change, the priority areas proposed by NASCAA are as follows:
- Manage the Water Cycle: Acknowledge and prioritize through funding, infrastructure and practices the extreme variations in the hydrologic cycle marked by drought, evapotranspiration, increased and more intense precipitation events, and increasing degradation of soil and water resources.
- Financial Assistance and Incentives: Promote and assist voluntary, locally led, incentive-based conservation efforts.
- Technical Assistance: Rebuild the capacity (both resources and staffing) of NRCS, state conservation agencies and local conservation districts to provide much needed technical assistance in writing and implementing Climate Smart Agriculture plans.
- Research: Support and encourage system-level, integrated science research on climate risks; adaptation innovations; and the economic value and effectiveness of CSA production practices.
- Investments in Infrastructure: Catalog and facilitate priority repairs and upgrades to vital production, inland waterways, and wireless broadband connectivity infrastructure.
- Risk Management: Adjust federal crop insurance programs to incentivize and expedite adoption of CSA practices to mitigate uncertainty and risks.
- Decision-making and Capacity Building: Develop farmer-informed, accessible, pragmatic, and affordable decision-making approaches and tools that connect land managers with data, knowledge and resources.
- Carbon Pricing Mechanisms: Support a carbon pricing mechanism that also provides payments to farmers for carbon fixation in their soil.
- Payments for Ecosystem Services: Support the development of quantified ecosystem benefits and a voluntary, market-based, private-sector funding mechanism/incentive for ecosystem services.
- Clean Energy: Pursue the reduction of carbon through market adjustments and production diversification opportunities to expand bio-based fuels for transportation and electricity production.
Every recommendation represents a composite NACSAA consensus of important enabling policies evolving from North American agricultural stakeholders. SfL calls on the new Biden administration and the upcoming 117th Congress to waste no time and turn the federal government’s collective focus and effort on the steps that can keep U.S. agriculture at the forefront of resolving climate challenges, as well as related food system, energy and environmental issues.