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Keeping ag a seat at the table (Editorial)

by | Jan 1, 2021

Coming off 2020, where just about everything had been — or had been labeled — “unprecedented,” it seems fitting that a collection of national agriculture and environmental groups would find common ground on how to direct policies related to climate change.
That’s the word used in describing the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance — formed in February by American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and National Farmers Union.
Later expanding to include The Food Industry Association, National Alliance of Forest Owners, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and The Nature Conservancy, the alliance last month issued more than 40 recommendations for crafting policy that addressed climate change issues without harm to agriculture and forestry.
Its work is focused on three core principles: Ensuing policy must be built upon voluntary, incentive-based programs and market-driven opportunities; they must promote resilience and adaptation in rural communities; and they must be science-based.
Its recommendations include incentives for farmers who sequester carbon in their soils and a USDA-led “carbon bank” that would set a floor for prices that farmers would be paid for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
“We began discussions not knowing whether we would ultimately reach agreement,” said Zippy Duvall, alliance co-chair and president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “It was important to me to reject punitive climate policy ideas of the past in favor of policies that respect farmers and support positive change. Our final recommendations do just that.”
As a new presidential administration takes shape, agriculture groups will want to keep a seat at the table where laws bound to affect them are debated.
It may not be as prominent a chair as they were with President Donald Trump, but joining with groups they have historically been at odds with, shows the willingness to work together where they share the same goals.
Just as nearly every agriculture advocacy speaker has urged farmers to be vocal and proactive about their industry, if agriculture isn’t sitting at the table, it’s sure to be on the menu.
As a candidate, Joe Biden pledged to put the United States on track to achieve 100-percent clean energy economy by 2050 and embraced the Green New Deal as a “crucial framework” for the country to deal with climate challenges.
An early move President-elect Biden’s transition making former Secretary of State John Kerry his “climate envoy” signals environmental issues will be front and center in the coming years.
Climate policies will impact farmers, forest owners, ranchers, rural and limited-resources communities, wildlife and natural resources and must be thoughtfully crafted to account for potential inequities, consequences and trade-offs.
Since its creation, the alliance has backed two bills before Congress; the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which could provide the legislative footing for a workable carbon credit market, and the Cover Crop Flexibility Act that would allow wider use of cover crops for grazing and harvesting and not jeopardize crop insurance coverages.
Both bills would provide the economic assurances to experiment with carbon trading or use cover crops on wider scale to improve their soil and bottom line.
That would also please the environmental groups with carbon reductions and sequestration.
Bringing the heft of its groups’ national reach and influence, the alliance very much is an unprecedented step, but the concept of uniting over a shared mission in spite of differences is hardly innovative.
It happens locally in nearly every facet of life and, on rare occasion, in politics, too.
Where the alliance and its work go from here remains to be seen, but beginning with agreement instead of discord is the right place to start.


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