December 21, 2022
Two different bodies within the House of Representatives recently released recommendations for how to address climate change in agricultural legislation. Members of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) provided recommendations to House leadership on how to address climate change in the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization. In addition, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (HSCCC) released a final report on its accomplishments as well as additional opportunities–including those that can be included in the next Farm Bill.
The agriculture recommendations from the HSCCC report, Solving the Climate Crisis 2022: Key Accomplishments and Additional Opportunities, are brief, in part, because the report also includes the recent successes in climate and agriculture legislation. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) created $19 billion in agricultural conservation initiatives, for example, as well as $2 billion for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The report also lauds the Biden-Harris Administration’s $3 billion investment in the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities.
The report’s agriculture recommendations include a call for supporting climate-friendly agricultural practices in future farm bills, and for research investments for climate solutions that “provide multiple co-benefits and expand economic opportunities for producers.” It notes the need for research to ensure accurate accounting of climate mitigation practices. Importantly, the report calls for accounting and addressing emissions across the entire food supply chain. The report also calls for any climate and agriculture policy to include a focus on fairness and equity. Grounding climate policy in equity is vital, especially because of the climate leadership shown by so many farmers of color.
Both the SEEC letter and the HSCCC report include recommendations for increasing soil health and carbon sequestration in agriculture. The HSCCC report notes success in carbon sequestration work including the IRA, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and its support for broadband that expands precision agriculture, and the CHIPS and Science Act that authorizes funding for precision agriculture technologies. Its broad recommendations to codify climate mitigation and adaptation as central purposes in the USDA conservation programs and to incentivize climate-friendly practices is echoed in more detail in the SEEC letter.
For example, the letter – signed by coalition members including House Agriculture Representatives Chellie Pingree, Kim Schrier, Anne McLane Kuster, James Mcgovern, and Jimmy Panetta – calls for NRCS to expand its targeting of soil health and integrate the prioritization of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction and carbon sequestration throughout programs like EQIP and the Conservation Innovation Grant program. They also call for advancing key priorities that are reflected in NSAC’s platform, like agroforestry. The letter specifically acknowledges the Agriculture Resilience Act and the Climate Agricultural Conservation Practices Act as bills that advance SEEC’s priorities.
The letter advocates for additional soil health policy to improve soil amendments like biochar and remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Legislation on biochar, plant biostimulants, and PFAS are highlighted here.
Both SEEC and HSCCC also address food waste and fair food systems. The list of successes around food waste and more equitable food systems in Solving the Climate Crisis includes the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) spending on historically underserved farmers and investments for infrastructure for food processors, markets, and local food systems. Additional funding in the IRA for outreach, training, and support for the 1890 and 1994 research institutions is framed as further progress in this area.
In regard to food waste, both documents call for reducing food in the waste stream. Some of the specifics in the SEEC letter include data collection on food waste, identifying better means of food recovery via EPA’s existing system, providing financial assistance for families to dispose of waste in sustainable ways, and support for composting. Legislative vehicles include the COMPOST Act, School Food Recovery Act, Food Date Labeling Act, Food Donation Improvement Act, and Zero Food Waste Act. In addition, the letter outlines areas where research on agricultural waste products is needed, including the development of more plant-based plastics.
The two documents also underline the need for legislation in support of on-farm renewable energy. The HSCCC points to the IRA’s progress in providing more funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and for rural electric cooperatives. In addition to the committee’s broad agricultural efficiency and low-emissions recommendations, the SEEC letter lays out needed expansion of REAP and the need to prioritize its spending on those projects that have the greatest emissions reductions potential. Both the REAP Improvement Act and the Agriculture Resilience Act address these and related updates to REAP. Both letters also point to the need to expand electrification infrastructure and improve electric equipment alternatives.
In addition, both documents point to the need to address climate resilience. From HSCCC’s recommendation that Congress establish a National Climate Adaptation Commission to develop overarching principles and goals, to the more agriculturally focused recommendations in SEEC’s letter, resilience is a key need for the agriculture sector and rural communities in the wake of many recent climate challenges.
SEEC’s recommendations are most pertinent to agriculture and include support for research and development of resilient crops as well as a systemization of the government response to extreme weather events. They also include improving access to the NRCS conservation programs so that historically underserved farmers can better obtain support from these programs to face weather challenges. In addition, drought resilience and mitigation receive separate attention. The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, Western Water Recycling and Drought Relief Act, and Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Amendments represent a suite of legislative responses to the urgent needs of the West.
Agricultural research is briefly mentioned in Solving the Climate Crisis but receives more extensive treatment in SEEC’s letter. Some of the research areas these legislators identify for more resources include soil amendments–ranging from carbon measurement to other consequences of losses from soil erosion. NSAC supports research that will holistically improve soil health and lead to reduced GHG emissions. The letter also points to the need for more specialty crop research, as well as research on feed additives and alternative proteins. Finally, it advocates for more mycological research to understand how fungi can be used to help in processing agricultural and food waste.
The HSCCC report highlights progress on preserving farmland from development, including funds in the IRA for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. It notes the importance of continued support for such programs for preventing farmland conversion and for integrating working lands into biodiversity and natural resource preservation planning, including the designation of wildlife corridors.
SEEC’s letter closes out with a section on support for small, rural, beginning, and organic farms. It includes a focus on procurement through the Kids Eat Local Act. In addition, the letter requests more support for organic and specialty crops, including increased organic cost share, space for specialty crops in the NRCS conservation programs, and elimination of the lower organic payment limit in EQIP.
The final sub-set of recommendations, from NSAC’s perspective, are among the most important, because they outline critical support for beginning, young, and farmers of color. These include more funding for training and support for these farmers through the 2501 program. They also include a call for more grant opportunities for these farmers in conservation and local food systems. Further, they suggest a USDA liaison be set up in each state to help beginning farmers and farmers of color, as well as to help farmers and ranchers with succession planning. The proposal of a Land Tenure Commission to advise on land access, farm business transition, and land tenure issues, is an important move toward ensuring that conservation-minded farmers can succeed from the start. Similarly, the recommendation to have USDA study and recommend how to implement conservation practices on leased land will make climate-friendly practices easier to implement for the very farmers most likely to employ them. Relevant legislation here includes the Justice for Black Farmers Act, Veteran and Beginning Farmers Assistance Act, and Conservation for Agricultural Leased Land Act.
NSAC is glad to see both of these documents address so many of our coalition’s campaign priorities. We will continue to work with our members and partners to advocate for a climate-friendly and just food and agriculture system as we enter the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization. For more on how our priorities align with the two documents, please visit our 2023 Farm Bill platform.