America's farmers, ranchers and forestland owners took note of and appreciated the Climate Crisis Action Plan released earlier this month by the majority staff of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (HSCCC). While there are elements that warrant further discussion, on balance many farmers — including me — feel a breath of fresh air.
For starters, the plan recognizes the need to address climate challenges through a “climate smart agriculture” framework. That means starting with enabling policies that help to sustainably intensify everything farmers produce, including food, feed, fiber and a host of high-value ecosystem services. This sets the stage for them to improve resilience and reduce or sequester greenhouse gas emissions.
Among the recommendations noteworthy to agricultural interests are those that would boost funding for technical and financial conservation assistance; provide crop insurance discounts to producers who adopt climate smart agriculture practices such as no-till and cover crops; implement a low carbon fuel standard to realize the full potential of biofuels; establish incentives for increasing carbon sequestration on private forestlands and improving forest ecosystem health; increase funding for agricultural research and USDA Climate Hubs; and incentivize farmers and ranchers to incorporate energy efficiency and generate renewable energy into their operations.
While this blueprint for action is an important first step in fighting the climate crisis, and should be commended for prioritizing sustainable agriculture practices that help us all, several recommendations need additional analysis and discussion. One example is the plan’s recommendation to extend federal protection to 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean waters by 2030. It's a well-meaning, but blunt objective that invites overkill. Locking up land does not guarantee it will remain a tool in the climate-change toolbox. Policy makers would be wise to place more emphasis on programs designed to keep "working lands working" and access the full suite of goods and ecosystem services that well managed farms, ranches and forests can produce.
The plan's call for investments in water storage and infrastructure also falls short in its consideration of how water should be allocated, especially given the increasing demand placed on water resources by expanding metropolitan areas, often at the expense of rural and agricultural needs.
While consideration is given by the report for the needs of fish and wildlife, it appears to come at the expense of water use by U.S. farmers; and none of us can provide those building blocks of climate smart agriculture without it. Furthermore, these climate smart systems and practices will play an important role in the storage and filtration of groundwater.
As the authorizing committees consider the HSCCC recommendations, I encourage them to proactively and systematically engage the men and women that manage our nation’s working lands for guidance on practical and pragmatic steps that can be taken to address climate challenges.
The economic viability of our farms will be our key to unleashing agriculture’s tremendous capacity to deliver near-term and cost-effective climate solutions. Without that as a foundational guiding principle of climate policy, the desire for positive climate and other outcomes — shared by both farmers and society as a whole — will never be realized. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis should be commended for outlining how agriculture can be enabled to fight climate change, and we look forward to working with them to advance policies that invest in tools and programs to produce win-win outcomes for farmers, ranchers, rural communities and the environment.
Fred Yoder is a fourth generation Ohio farmer who grows corn, soybeans and wheat. He is co-chairman of Solutions from the Land (SfL) and chairman of the SfL-supported North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance.