Farm Groups and Trump’s USDA Embrace Sustainability In Order to Fight Off Climate Regulation

Photo: The Sustainability Alliance

Yesterday the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Purdue< announced a series of goals intended to make the farming sector more sustainable, including an effort to cut the carbon footprint of agriculture in half and reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030, The Hill reported.  And the Farm Bureau is leading a new organization called Farmers for a Sustainable Future, that E&E News reports will advocate on behalf of farmers, ranchers, and agriculture producers for voluntary rather than mandatory measures to combat climate change.

Why This Matters:  The agriculture sector, according to E&E News, accounts for 9% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which is less than the transportation (29%) and electricity (28%) sectors, according to EPA. But the 2018 National Climate Assessment stated that reducing agricultural emissions “could have a significant impact on total U.S. emissions.”  Moreover, the Administration may be looking to the agriculture sector to sequester more carbon emissions, consistent with Congressional Republicans’ climate plans to plant more trees.  According to a recent study by Yale, more than half of Americans (55%) say they are willing to eat more plant-based meat alternatives and nearly half (46%) say they are willing to use dairy alternatives (soy milk, almond milk, etc.) instead of dairy-based milk or cream. The Farm Bureau may be willing to talk about climate change but could use their muscle and the “cover” of this new group to block any real action.  We will see.

USDA’s Sustainability Promises

Even as they intend to cut emissions and pollution and reduce food waste, the USDA wants to boost production by 40 percent, and at the same time reduce water pollution from nutrient loss by 30 percent by 2050 and grow enough feedstock by 2050 to have biofuels constitute 30 percent of the nation’s fuel supply.  They also want the farm sector to sequester more carbon in soil and trees while adopting technology and practices that could reduce agriculture’s overall carbon footprint, but there are no targets for emissions reduction, much less any real penalty for missing the targets.   The USDA also intends to ramp up its data collection on sustainable farming practices but pledges to do it in a way that preserves farmers’ privacy (a familiar refrain with fishers and electronic data collection as well).

Farmers for a Sustainable Future

While it attempts to seem progressive, Farmers for a Sustainable Future seems to be set up to block more climate policies than it is willing to get behind.  The group wants to “incentivize innovation” using “[v]oluntary, incentive-based programs that enhance farmers’ and ranchers’ profitability and production methods, which have already allowed agriculture to achieve significant sustainability gains.”  But they want to have their cake and eat it too — they are also asking for “[i]nitiatives to maintain and improve infrastructure capacity to support farm and ranch operations, rural communities, and related agricultural businesses.” However, they also say that farmers want to “leave the land better than when it was first entrusted to our care…and protect the planet, feed and clothe people, and promote vibrant communities.”

Graphic: Farmers for a Sustainable Future

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