Photo: Phys.org

On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren, rolled out yet another policy plan with big implications for combatting climate change — this time aiming at overhauling the way the government subsidizes the agricultural sector in order to incentivize conservation and stabilize farm incomes for family farmers.  The plan does three major things:  (1) expands from $1B to $15B the fund that pays farmers to use sustainable agricultural practices (the Conservation Stewardship Program); (2) makes a commitment to use funds from her Green Manufacturing Plan towards innovations for decarbonizing the agriculture sector, including a farmer-led Innovation Fund; and (3) and holds accountable large agribusinesses who are the likely culprits for polluting hundreds of thousands of miles of rivers and streams and causing dead zones in lakes and coastal waters.  

Why This Matters:  As the UN IPCC report released today stresses, the agricultural practices currently employed are a big part of the climate problem and of its solution. According to EPA figures, in the U.S., agriculture is the source of 9 percent of all such greenhouse gas emissions as well as a huge source of nutrient pollution that flows into rivers and streams unabated.  Right now the U.S. system of government subsidies for agriculture is not working for farmers or the taxpayers.  The incentives are all wrong but fixable.  Under the President’s program to subsidize farmers, we are spending billions to pay them to grow crops that they can no longer sell into China — and for what?  This must change.

U.S. Agriculture Payments Subsidize Climate Change

Senator Warren well summarizes the vicious cycle caused by the government’s well-meaning programs that stimulate overproduction by guaranteeing farmers revenue regardless of prices or environmental conditions.

  • “Farmers are pressured into taking on huge debts to pay the high prices that a small number of large suppliers charge them for inputs like seeds and fertilizer. Then, farmers are at the whim of a market that is controlled by meatpackers and grain traders that can pay them low prices for the commodities they produce — prices that often don’t cover all the money farmers had to spend in the first place.”
  • “All of this causes tremendous overproduction of commodities. In the face of lower and lower prices in the market, farmers are left to produce more to try and break even. But this just causes prices to go down even further, benefiting the huge corporations looking to buy goods on the cheap and leaving farmers dependent on the government to backfill their costs.”

As The Hill notes, Warren is not the only candidate to recognize the connection between the Ag sector and climate change solutions — Senator Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, and former Vice President Biden all have called for changes in government policies that would pay farmers to farm more sustainably.

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