Moving American Agriculture to “Net Zero”

Posted on Friday, November 15th, 2019 by
Photo credit: USDA NRCS

This is reposted from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), of which CalCAN is a member. NSAC advocates for federal policy reform for the sustainability of food systems, natural resources, and rural communities. See the original post. 

For American farmers, the writing is on the wall: climate crisis is no longer a distant threat, it is here. From record-breaking floods across the Midwest to intense land-falling hurricanes on our coasts to historic droughts in California, farmers across the country have been on the frontlines of extreme weather due to climate change. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has been helping farmers adopt climate-smart practices for decades, and on November 13th released a new report of policy and practice recommendations based on the latest climate science: Agriculture and Climate Change: Policy Imperatives and Opportunities to Help Producers Meet the Challenge.

“Agriculture can help lead the way in reversing the cataclysmic disruptions of climate change, but only if we understand how innovative agricultural systems can sequester greenhouse gases (GHG) to create resilience and productivity,” said Dr. Mark Schonbeck, Research Associate with the Organic Farming Research Foundation and one of the paper’s principal authors. “This position paper presents the latest research on those processes, and uses it to build practical policy recommendations detailing how legislators and advocates can encourage adoption of management-intensive rotational grazing, agroforestry, and other systems that enhance natural cycles.”

The NSAC paper finds that while progress has been made on increasing overall soil carbon (which has positive effects on soil quality and could result in increased productivity, agricultural resilience, and yield stability, especially on carbon-depleted soils), overall the U.S. agricultural production sector has increased its GHG emissions and climate impact over the past few decades. The main driver of this increase has been the increasing use of liquid manure storage lagoons found on livestock CAFOs, which emit far more GHG (primarily methane) than dry-stacked or composted manure.

The paper, developed by NSAC’s Subcommittee on Climate Change, explores both the impact of climate change on U.S. agriculture, as well as the contribution of U.S. agriculture to global climate change mitigation. Key issues analyzed include: the impact of CAFOs on climate and environment; the relationship between the climate crisis and overproduction; how the structure of the federal crop insurance system contributes to overproduction and by extension climate change; and impactful sustainable production practices, including perennial cropping systems, resource-conserving crop rotations, and management intensive grazing.

Photo credit: USDA NRCS

“Climate change is now our shared reality, and the adverse effects are adding new challenges to farms like mine every year,” said Tom Nuessmeier, a Minnesota-based livestock and crop farmer and Policy Program Organizer with the Land Stewardship Project. “In order to not just adapt, but play a positive role in combating climate change, we need to develop new farming practices and systems that store more carbon in the soil. The practices outlined in NSAC’s latest publication are needed at this critical time, both as a guide to our legislators as they make appropriations and farm policy decisions, and as a resource for our farmers and ranchers.”

In Agriculture and Climate Change, the authors take a comprehensive look at the latest in agricultural and climate science and summarize their analysis in 14 key research findings. Based on these findings, the paper puts forward nearly 30 detailed public policy recommendations, which NSAC hopes policymakers will utilize as they continue to develop and debate policies and programs to address the climate crisis. These findings will be used to inform recommendations to USDA and Congress, including the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which undertook its first hearing on climate change and agriculture just this fall.

“We’re very glad to see that Congress is starting to pay more attention to the intersections of climate change and agriculture,” said Juli Obudzinski, Interim Policy Director at NSAC. “We thank the House Select Committee, and the many other climate leaders in Congress, for prioritizing this issue and seeking input from those on the front lines of the climate crisis – farmers and ranchers. NSAC is pleased to submit the findings of this paper to Congress, and remains dedicated to working with our allies in support of producer-led efforts to achieve climate-neutrality.”

In conjunction with the release of this paper, NSAC has also published eight policy principles on agriculture and climate change, which can be found here.

Are you a farmer or rancher? You can get involved by signing on to urge federal climate action. If you work with farmers or ranchers, you can disseminate the letter among your networks: 

“We the undersigned farmers and ranchers, write to express our deep concerns about climate change impacts on agriculture in the United States and to call for solutions that invest in our rural and agricultural communities.”

Join farmers from across the country in calling for federal climate action. Click here!

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