When President Biden tapped former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry as the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, the newly elected President issued a clear signal that mitigating the climate crisis would become one of his administration’s highest priorities. With key Republican agricultural leaders in Congress and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack also showing their support, climate-focused legislation is a near certainty. All of us in agricultural circles should become well-read on the subject no matter where your opinion on it falls in the overarching debate.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act, introduced by Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) during the 116th Congress, sheds light on a potential pathway for action this time around. Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has touted the legislation as a bipartisan road map for agriculture’s role in slowing or even reversing the climate crisis. At the heart of the matter is a carbon sequestration policy aimed at establishing a voluntary system to store more carbon in soil and trees.
Will it be a “carrot” or “stick” approach?
So far, all signs point to a voluntary carrot approach with incentives for farmers to join in the crusade by scaling up sustainable practices. Ranking Senate Ag Committee member John Boozman (R-Ark.) shared that the overall climate mitigation initiative could do two things: better protect the environment and reduce on-farm input costs. In making that assertion, Boozman also stresses that the system must be voluntary.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack appears poised to act before comprehensive legislation gets passed by creating a carbon bank to finance investments focused on climate-smart land practices. To fund the project, President Biden and Secretary Vilsack would reallocate a portion of the $30 billion once destined for trade war mitigation payments and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). More climate-targeted funding could eventually come via a bill like the aforementioned Growing Climate Solutions Act. If passed in advance of the 2023 Farm Bill, this legislation would create a government baseline to roll long-term funding for the climate mitigation efforts into future farm bills.
While many among us may think this entire conversation is a pile of bull pucky, that would be a shortsighted assessment. Agriculture companies and organizations are joining in these climate change mitigation efforts. The American Farm Bureau Federation joined with the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Farmers Union, and others to create the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. Meanwhile, Land O’Lakes created TruCarbon, and Microsoft just became its first customer.