Opinion | Energy & Environment

Congress must include Climate Smart Agriculture in budget reconciliation

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Hurricane Nicholas wreaked havoc, dumping torrential rainfall and causing flooding across the Gulf Coast of The Southeastern United States - and came less than two weeks after the devastation left in the same region by Hurricane Ida.

The weather disasters have prompted more discussion about steps that various sectors, including agriculture, need to take to improve their resilience and mitigate the impacts of these enormous and wicked storms. They are said by many researchers to be a near-perfect example of what can be expected to become the norm if there is a failure to act on climate change.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) listed Ida as one of the strongest on record to strike the Southeastern United States, a development that bodes ill for the months ahead (hurricane season formally ends Nov. 30), particularly following a record-breaking 2020. 

Last year, hurricane season brought with it an unprecedented 30 named storms, including seven major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher (Category 5 being the highest).

While it is difficult to say any one storm is the direct result of climate change, the increase in global temperatures stemming largely from human-generated carbon pollution is intensifying the factors that create hurricanes, including warmer ocean waters. Those increasing water temperatures are expected to drive more, even stronger, hurricane winds and rains. 

This reality reaffirms the need to scale up Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA), an approach that incorporates systems and practices that enable farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to sustainably intensify production, improve resilience and simultaneously deliver valuable carbon sequestration services, all while generating reductions in climate-warming greenhouse gases.

roadmap released by the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), outlines multiple pathways to effectively address the changing climate. As Congress takes up the proposed budget reconciliation and infrastructure measures, policymakers should heed the recommendations laid out in that roadmap and include funding and enabling authority for critically needed conservation and technical assistance programs and clean energy investments, including ethanol.

According to the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, ethanol's average carbon intensity is now 44 to 52 percent lower than gasoline's carbon intensity. Given the fact that legacy vehicles powered by internal combustion engines will be on the road for the next several decades, Congress should mandate improvements in fuel quality to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and increase fuel efficiency, all while supporting agriculture's contribution toward helping address climate change and decarbonizing transportation.

Any reconciliation measure should also make water management and infrastructure investments, and fund carbon pricing mechanisms and ecosystem service payment programs. The legislation should also invest in integrated science research on climate risks and innovations in adaptation, all while boosting the economic value and effectiveness of CSA production practices.

Hurricanes Ida and Nicholas have sparked yet more calls to action. With sound climate smart agriculture enabling polices, investments and markets, those who work the land can deliver solutions to climate, food system, energy and national security challenges. Who in Congress will help agriculture respond to these existential threats?

Fred Yoder is a member of the Board of Directors of Solutions from the Land, an alliance of agricultural leaders addressing food security, economic development, climate change and conservation of biodiversity.  Yoder, who is an SfL co-chair, is a fourth-generation Ohio corn, soybean and wheat grower and former president of the National Corn Growers Association. 

Ray Gaesser is a member of the Board of Directors of Solutions from the Land, an Iowa grower of soybeans and corn and is a former president of the American Soybean Association.

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