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Legislation under consideration by Congress is putting a national spotlight on the major role for farmers and ranchers in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act is a bipartisan effort to help farmers, ranchers and landowners generate carbon credits through the implementation of conservation practices on their land. The sale of these credits and expansion of carbon markets would create another long-term revenue stream. We recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry on the importance of this measure and the opportunities it presents for America’s farmers and ranchers. You can read our written testimonies or see a video of the entire hearing on the Committee’s website.
The hearing is worth a watch. For nearly two hours, Democrats and Republicans came together to discuss the power of farmer-led and farmer-driven stewardship. At a time when politics feels particularly partisan, it was exciting to be a part of a process where everyone was focused on driving workable solutions.
The hearing – and the legislation itself – is a high-profile recognition that working with farmers and ranchers is one of the quickest, most scalable and economically feasible ways to address greenhouse gas emissions.
American farmers and ranchers are doing great work on their land, but they are not being appropriately compensated for the public good they provide: There is inherent value in the work that farmers and ranchers do to protect natural resources, but they don’t have the market infrastructure in place to generate revenue from those activities.
If passed, the Growing Climate Solutions Act would address that challenge by providing the core infrastructure needed for viable greenhouse gas and ecosystem services markets. The bill outlines an important role for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide a trusted source of information on the protocols and standards farmers and ranchers must implement on their land, as well as a web-based resource to identify service providers to help them create GHG credits.
Farmers and ranchers are businesspeople: They know that markets work best when there is transparency in rules and prices. Markets are most efficient when they reduce barriers for sellers and provide quality for buyers. This legislation is an important step in creating these conditions for agricultural carbon credits.
This is not about regulation. Ultimately, it is a voluntary marketplace that will create a new revenue stream for farmers to tap if it is the right choice for their businesses.
That’s why the bill has received the support of the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, the Environmental Defense Fund and Truterra, the sustainability solutions business of Land O’Lakes, as well as groups like the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council and other farm groups, environmental organizations and Fortune 500 companies.
This legislation is not a silver bullet to ensure the success of carbon markets and create new revenue streams for farmers and ranchers. There are still considerable needs for more research, the removal of barriers to renewable energy and biofuels production and use, and a broad and necessary expansion of internet access in rural areas. A carbon market will not work without internet access. Unlocking the potential of this marketplace requires data, access to information and machine learning.
That is why Land O’Lakes, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and many others across the food and agriculture supply chain are working to address the digital divide, including providing free Wi-Fi access points in rural communities.
But closing the digital divide will also require federal support and investment in rural broadband infrastructure to ensure every corner of rural America is properly connected to the digital world.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act is good for agriculture, and we urge Congress to move quickly to pass this legislation. It offers farmers and ranchers new opportunities and new revenue streams at a challenging time for our industry.
Ultimately, the bill provides the tools for farmers, ranchers and rural communities to continue to be careful stewards of the land and natural resources and will keep farm businesses profitable for future generations.
Jason Weller is Vice President of Truterra, LLC, the sustainability business at Land O’Lakes Inc., one of the nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperatives, and former Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at USDA.
Zippy Duvall is the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and a third-generation farmer from Georgia.
Rob Larew is the president of the National Farmers Union and was raised on a dairy farm in West Virginia.
Brent Bible is a first-generation farmer in Lafayette, Indiana.