A New Alliance for Farming’s Climate Impact

by Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which has actively pushed back on reducing emissions from its sector, has joined environmental organizations in the newly formed Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. The plan, as InsideClimate News reports, is for the alliance to work with Congress and the incoming Biden administration to reduce the food system’s role in climate change. 

The Alliance has been meeting for the past year prior to its announcement and already has a set of policy recommendations to reward farmers for making climate-friendly changes. They include tax credits for farmers who can prove that they’ve stashed carbon in their soils and paying farmers for cutting emissions through a USDA-led “carbon bank.”

  • Some of these ideas, like the carbo bank, dovetail with the Biden transition team’s Climate 21 memo for addressing climate issues around farming.

Why This Matters: Agriculture and farming are responsible for about a third of global emissions and about 10% of US emissions. Changing farming methods and the food system itself is essential to meet climate targets. A recent study found that if current trends continue, this sector alone will likely push us past the 1.5 degree limit by 2060. 

However, this newly formed alliance might not be the best leader for the transformative change the farm sector needs. The Farm Bureau has fought environmental regulations for decades and explicitly says it doesn’t support regulating emissions from farming. Its official stance on climate change casts doubt on the undisputed science that it’s caused by human activity. 

Emissions are Only Part of the Problem: While it’s important to get emissions under control, current farming practices, especially large-scale industrial farming practices, are harmful in other ways too. Runoff from fertilizer is creating toxic algae blooms, and manure from industrial livestock operations is a big source of methane.

“These recommendations dodge some of the most important challenges for agriculture—namely, how do we facilitate a transition away from the primary ag-related sources of emissions: the overuse of synthetic fertilizers and the continued expansion of large-scale animal feeding operations and their excess manure,” said Ben Lilliston, director of rural strategies and climate change at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy told InsideClimate News. “Voluntary, incentive-based approaches are important, but as long as this industrial system of production is in place, it will be difficult to get deeper traction at the speed with which is needed to meet the climate crisis.”

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