Senate Committee Report Looks to Agriculture for Climate Challenge Solutions

August 27, 2020

A report released this week by a special Senate committee makes clear the impact that climate change is having – and will continue to have – on the agricultural sector. But, as in a report issued last month by the House Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, the Senate version verifies the practical and pragmatic solutions that farmers and ranchers can provide to address climate change.

The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis (SCCC) says the report provides a framework for Congress “to finally do what is necessary to build the clean energy future we all deserve.”

In a 35-page section dedicated to “Farming and Rural Communities,” the special committee notes that America’s farmers already have many of the tools they need to improve productivity, increase resilience to extreme events, and generate new income in the face of a changing climate.

Citing certain farming and ranching practices that can draw significant carbon from the atmosphere, the report notes that when those services are assessed at value, they can provide new income for farmers and ranchers. The report says these soil-enhancing practices can also make farms more productive and resilient to flood and droughts. The committee reaffirms that expanding methane capture, the use of tailored livestock feed mixes, and precision farming aided by satellites, broadband data and sensors, can all substantially reduce both emissions and production costs from working lands.

The federal government’s role in optimizing the ag sector’s ability to counter changes in climate is to promote stable markets, provide incentives and financial support to implement best practices, and deliver accessible, science-based decision-making tools. Specifically, the panel says Congress should:

  • Expand existing USDA agricultural conservation programs and include improved soil health and soil carbon storage incentives.
  • Invest in technical assistance and expand apprenticeship programs to support farmers and ranchers as they adopt and expand regenerative practices.
  • Facilitate participation in carbon markets by supporting research and development of accurate, low-cost, readily scalable methods to measure soil carbon.
  • Provide funding for research, development, and deployment of advanced biofuels and bio-based products from waste products and non-food crops.
  • Provide technical assistance and financial incentives to scale the use of methane digesters.
  • Fund grants, incentives, and tax credits to assist with the costs of building on-farm clean power generation and reduce the costs and technical barriers of connecting to the grid.
  • Invest in and maintain state-of-the-art universal rural connectivity, including rural broadband.

The Senate plan, like its House counterpart, acknowledges the significant role biofuels can play in reducing the carbon intensity of the transportation sector and the nation’s reliance on petroleum. In addition, the Senate version calls for a technology-neutral Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), a measure that could increase the use of biofuels and make them a viable part of a climate change solution by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Senate plan drives the point that a strong and resilient agriculture sector is crucial to national security and economic prosperity, especially in rural America. The document recognizes that as the stewards of a large portion of U.S. land, farmers, ranchers and foresters care deeply about the health of the land they work.

“As we now face the challenges of climate change, farmers and ranchers can be a vital part of the solution,” the Senate plan says. “Fortunately, farmers have been piloting techniques for years to improve soil health, conserve water supplies, reduce emissions, and increase overall resiliency.” It’s an effort that has resulted in new opportunities, including the emergence of practices that can generate new income streams and stabilize farm financials in what have become incredibly difficult times.

SfL appreciates the recognition of agriculture’s longstanding and continuous efforts to make and improve practices that deal with the growing climactic crisis. While the plan, like its House counterpart, has areas in need of improvement, SfL looks forward to helping policymakers use these frameworks to build bi-partisan support for not only the policies and programs that enable climate smart agriculture, but for funding and other investments that promote related practices.

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