Monday, December 17, 2018

Essay: Farm Bill doesn't do enough to help farmers, who bear the brunt of climate change, adopt greener practices

A thoughtful essay from nonprofit think-tank The Aspen Institute says the Farm Bill can help mitigate climate change via better funding decisions without hurting farmers' finances, but the 2018 version doesn't do enough.

A 2016 study by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that agriculture accounted for 9 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas output; that figure is about 33 percent worldwide. "In Congress, lawmakers have the opportunity to implement policy with the goal of reducing agricultural GHG emissions and assisting farmers and ranchers who are faced with the devastating impacts of a changing climate resulting in extreme drought, wildfires, and shorter growing seasons," Greg Gershuny and Kate Henjum write.

The recent climate report released by 13 federal agencies said that climate change will cause problems for farms and ranches more quickly than technology can solve them. The 2018 Farm Bill has some provisions that can help farmers adapt to an already-changing climate and help mitigate further changes, like a program that incentivizes farmers to build healthier soil. But Farm Bill funding is finite, and adding money to one program means taking it away from another. Because of that, some programs that would help farmers follow more sustainable practices are underfunded, Gershuny and Henjum write.

"It is critical that funds are appropriated in full to designated programs. Traditional farming practices are still important, but an openness and commitment to more sustainable and transformative practices that reflect the present reality faced by farmers and ranchers is necessary," Gershuny and Henjum write. "In the quickly changing agricultural landscape that is suffering from drought and forest fire, pests and disease, it is no longer enough to simply consider sustainable practices. By cutting funding or merely maintaining funding for research and programs that are used to improve rural economies, mitigate impacts of climate variability, address water availability issues, and train the next generation of agricultural workers, the burden falls hardest on the farmers and ranchers who are faced directly with these impacts.

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