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Senate can boost agriculture’s battle against climate change

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Budget reconciliation legislation that includes investments for climate programs, among other outlays, is now pending in the Senate and presents lawmakers with a tremendous opportunity to address climate change in a meaningful way. Already passed by the House of Representatives in 2021, climate and clean energy investments will provide resources to mitigate the impacts of climate change, while also improving the quality of life in rural counties, as well as helping farm families and their communities.

During the first six months of 2022, the United States was struck by nine individual billion-dollar weather and climate events, including three severe weather events and extreme drought. This summer alone, the U.S. has experienced record-breaking extreme heat and drought that has threatened over 100 million people.

While negotiations will determine how large and what is included in the package, a top priority should be significant investments that would help farmers adapt, improve resiliency and deliver concurrent greenhouse gas reduction services. Given the major toll climate change is taking on the agricultural sector, investments in climate-smart agriculture programs are critically important and needed. Higher temperatures eventually reduce yields of desirable crops, encourage weed and pest proliferation and adversely affect livestock operations. Changes in precipitation patterns, which can lead to drought and flooding, increase the likelihood of short-run crop failures and long-run production declines.

Programs in the spending measure aimed at boosting agricultural resilience against — or the sector’s adaptation to — these changes in climate are needed now more than ever to maintain the U.S. position as the world’s leading agricultural exporter. Global hunger is at record levels and rising, according to the annual “State of Food and Nutrition in the World 2022” (SOFI) released just last week by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme. The report shows up to 828 million people went hungry in 2021, an increase of 46 million people compared to the previous year. The findings also show there has been increase in global hunger of 150 million people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study paints a grim picture of food security globally, and it’s important that policymakers champion measures that will ensure this nation’s long term productive capacity. The United States is the world’s top food exporter thanks to high crop yields and extensive agricultural infrastructure. Lawmakers must help keep U.S. agriculture a leading force in world markets. That protection includes supporting investments in research, forest protection, conservation and renewable energy.

Among the outlays that should be included in the measure before the Senate are funds to boost agricultural research, especially the work being done at Land-Grant Colleges and Universities extension activities relating to this growing threat to our climate. The measure should also take aim at climate issues being faced by our forestry industry by including critical appropriations for programs to help combat catastrophic wildfires, including hazardous fuel treatments across the National Forest System and adjacent properties.

Equally important are investments in vital conservation programs and extensions of tax credits that have driven large-scale growth in clean energy like wind, solar and renewable fuels. Other outlays in the measure should go to help rural communities and co-ops convert to renewable energy. A good example is the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program, which offers loans and grants to farmers and rural communities seeking to improve their energy efficiency. Significant funding should also be appropriated to boost the nation’s renewable fuels infrastructure, providing market access for producers while offering less expensive, cleaner transportation fuels for consumers.

If policymakers need any more incentive to take climate action, they should know that the economic costs of inaction could reach $14.5 trillion of lost GDP for the United States by 2070. In the clean-energy sector alone, the United States is losing $2 billion of economic activity for every month no action is taken.

Action to improve the resilience of U.S. agriculture along with food and nutrition security is imperative. We urge the Senate to pass climate and clean energy investments now.

A.G. Kawamura is a third-generation produce grower and shipper from Orange County, California. A former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, he is founding co-chair of Solutions from the Land, a nationally recognized non-profit that is developing innovative and sustainable climate-smart collaborations for 21st-century agriculture.

Fred Yoder is a fourth-generation farmer who has lived and farmed near Plain City, Ohio for more than 40 years. A former president of the National Corn Growers Association, he is a founding board member and now co-chair of Solutions from the Land. He also serves as chair of the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, a farmer-led platform inspiring agricultural partners to innovate effective local adaptations that sustain productivity, enhance climate resilience and contribute to local and global sustainable development goals.

Tags Agriculture climate Climate change Food food supply Fred Yoder Global warming Produce

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