Farmers Ready to Pitch in on Climate?

November 23, 2020

Above – Netflix suggestion for a long weekend.


Just over a decade ago, the American Farm Bureau Federation declared war on legislation to slow down global warming. The organization, a lobbying powerhouse,argued that a “cap-and-trade” proposal making its way through Congress would make fuel and fertilizer more expensive and put farmers out of business.

Farmers swarmed Capitol Hill wearing caps with the words “Don’t Cap Our Future.” And it worked. The legislation died, derailing the boldest plan Congress had crafted to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

Now, the Farm Bureau might be changing course. This week, it announced that it had formed a coalition that plans to push the government to adopt dozens of policy changesthat would make it easier for farmers to reduce emissions from agriculture. 

“We’re going to have a real common sense, science-based discussion about how we protect the climate, and our farmers want to be part of that,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the Farm Bureau.

The proposals don’t entail regulation or mandatory cuts to agricultural greenhouse gases. Instead, they are voluntary and sometimes involve paying farmers to reduce emissions. Still, the new Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance brings together groups that have often butted heads on environmental policy, from agricultural lobbies, like the Farm Bureau and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, to climate advocates, like the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy. 

“It feels like in the past eighteen months, the conversation has just really shifted,” saysPipa Elias, director of agriculture for The Nature Conservancy.

The shift is happening for several reasons. Many big food companies have promised to reduce their greenhouse emissions and they’re pushing for changes on the farm — and sometimes paying for such changes.

Meredith Niles, a specialist on farming and the environment at the University of Vermont, says that farmers also are reacting to their direct experience. “We see more and more farmers acknowledging climate change, actually being affected by it, through droughts or floods or other impacts,” she says.” 

At the press conference launching the new alliance, Barb Glenn, chief executive of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, said that “everyone in this unique coalition understands and is witnessing the changing of the climate, and we all want to be involved in impacting it.” 

The new alliance is proposing initiatives that would make it easier for farmers to make climate-friendly changes on their farms. The proposals include everything from installing anaerobic digesters that capture the greenhouse gas methane from cow manure to building healthier, carbon-rich soil, absorbing carbon from the air in the process, and expanding forest land.

Farmers would be compensated for taking these steps, either directly by the government or by corporations that seek to offset, or cancel out, their own emissions.

The alliance didn’t quantify the impact of these policies on greenhouse emissions. Currently, agriculture is responsible for about ten percent of the country’s emissions of heat-trapping gases. According to some estimates, a reduction in greenhouse emissions from agriculture combined with an increase in forests could get the country 10 to 20 percent of the way toward net zero emissions in 2050.

Some environmentalists unaffiliated with the alliance, like Jason Davidson at Friends of the Earth, are against the idea of letting farmers make money from their greenhouse reductions by selling “carbon credits. “You’re not necessarily reducing pollution, you’re just saying that polluters can continue to pollute and offset that based on practices elsewhere,” he says. As a result, he says, pollution often ends up concentrated in communities without the power to defend themselves. 

In addition, it can be hard to measure what some of these farming methods actually accomplish. There’s a risk that farmers could be paid for greenhouse reductions that turn out to be illusory. Niles, at the University of Vermont, says scientists are working to resolve those measurement uncertainties. And she was “thrilled” to see the new group’s recommendations.

The biggest shift, she says, is that big farm groups are finally talking about reducing their own greenhouse emissions. In the past, she says, “a lot of farmers didn’t want to speak about it, because it might mean potential regulation.”

They’re still opposed to new regulations. But Pipa Elias, from The Nature Conservancy, says that financial incentives also work. “If getting agriculture to the table requires a market based payment, it can actually be very efficient and very effective,” she says.


4 Responses to “Farmers Ready to Pitch in on Climate?”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    I’m amazed at all the pronouncements that these conservatives, corporations, industry groups, and fossil fuel corporations are suddenly coming around and are planning to help solve the climate crisis.

    RUKM? They’re not helping; they’re not going carbon neutral. (Has no one figured out that the only way for a fossil fuel, agro-chemical, or ICEV corporation to be carbon neutral is for it to not exist?) None of them have suddenly acquired a conscience or a feeling of responsibility or connection to humanity or other beings. So-called conservative-friendly actions won’t solve anything; delaying so long has made overwhelming, radical actions necessary. Now.

    They see a way to make more money while they fool people they think of as losers; their 2 favorite things. If they choose to pretend to care there’s no reason we can’t choose to pretend to believe them. So we can set demands that divide those who are pretending from those who are actually changing, set very short-term deadlines for very strong actions, and absolutely flame them if they fail in any way. Massive, relentless, social media harassment; physical and virtual boycotts, blockades, and strikes; 24/7 silent but in-their-face stalking of their executives by hundreds or thousands of protestors; lawsuits; prosecution (fraud, SEC violations, felony murders…). If the criminal psychopaths are for real about reform, none of that will happen. If they’re not they deserve much worse; at this point, lying in order to continue to commit these crimes against humanity and the Earth is unforgivable and must be stopped by whatever peaceful means necessary.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Don’t conflate the current profit model for major agribusinesses with whether or not Big Agriculture can pivot to solve the problem. There are a lot of things they have done right that we now take for granted (we used to lose a lot more topsoil before erosion management techniques were widely implemented), in large part because of self-interest.

      The trick is to treat profit-driven companies like the heartless machines they are: Use regulatory restriction to reduce the current abuses and allow them to leverage technology to advance more high yield yet environmentally friendly farming techniques. (I look forward to farmers eventually growing complimentary crops in the same field, row next to row, such that it reduces both the physical and financial vulnerabilities of monocultures.)

      Bear in mind that part of the problem with something like chemical overfertilization and pest control has to do with it being cheap and effective, and there was little financial penalty for a farmer to use too much.

  2. Keith Omelvena Says:

    “Some environmentalists unaffiliated with the alliance, like Jason Davidson at Friends of the Earth, are against the idea of letting farmers make money from their greenhouse reductions by selling “carbon credits.” Agree. The whole concept of tradable credits is nonsense. Although if the system is like the one in NZ, farmers aren’t really making money, just borrowing it. Credits have to be bought back again, at market price, when the carbon is re released, probably at a much higher price, ie when forestry is cut.

  3. al mar Says:

    The saying “a day late and a dollar short” applies here.

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