One of very few farmers in Congress, Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) recently introduced the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA), the most comprehensive climate and agriculture bill ever introduced.
It lays out 12 bold and necessary goals to meet over the next 20 years to restore lost soil carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost on-farm renewable energy, and reduce food waste, among other laudable goals.
According to the Congresswoman, “Farming has always been a risky business, but unpredictable, extreme weather patterns are creating immense challenges that threaten our nation’s food production and jeopardize the livelihood of American farmers.”
Currently, agriculture contributes more than 8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., but the sector is uniquely positioned to draw down massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. To help achieve this, the bill focuses on six concrete areas based on science and driven by farmers:
Improving Soil Health
The ARA would create a new soil health grant program for states, authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to offer performance-based crop insurance discounts for practices that reduce risk, and explore new ways to reward farmers for soil carbon sequestration. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has worked for years to increase adoption of good conservation practices and this bill will significantly increase funding for NRCS’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP, the nation’s largest working lands conservation program, would see funding increase four-fold.
The ARA would increase funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program championed by Pingree and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and create a new part of the program that would focus on farm viability and local climate resilience centers to help farmers reach new markets. It would also increase funding for the permanent protection of farm ground through the Agriculture Conservation Easement program and make sure any proceeds from the sale of an easement or farmland to beginning, socially disadvantaged, veteran, and young farmers would be excluded from gross income.
Supporting Pasture-Based Livestock Systems
The bill would create a new alternative manure management program and a grant program to help very small meat processors cover costs of complying with federal meat inspection guidelines. These costs can be prohibitive and have limited the number of meat processing options in Ohio and elsewhere.
Investing in Research
The ARA would prioritize research relate to climate and increase funding for USDA’s Regional Climate Hubs. The bill also supports much needed public plant and animal breeding.
Investing in On-Farm Energy
The Rural Energy for American Program (REAP) provides guaranteed loan financing and grants to farmers for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements. ARA would increase funding to REAP and provide technical assistance to farmers interested in reducing methane emissions.
Reducing Food Waste
The ARA would standardize food date labels to reduce consumer confusion and create a program within USDA to reduce food waste in schools and increase federal support for composting and anaerobic digestion.
While bills like this usually move forward as one complete piece of legislation, the ARA marker bill is likely to be broken out into smaller pieces that address the areas highlighted above. This comes as we wait for the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to release their policy recommendations at the end of March.
OEFFA supports this comprehensive roadmap for climate and agriculture and appreciates it being led by an organic farmer who understand first-hand the challenges of farming and the benefits of best management practices. Representative Pingree’s inclusion of farm viability is a case in point. If farmers are not profitable, that land will be lost and become housing subdivisions, roads, or commercial space which leads to more carbon emissions. We are also poised to see the transfer of hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in the coming years and we all want that land to stay in agriculture, and be as environmentally and economically resilient as possible.
We are thankful to have the voice of farmers represented as climate discussions move forward. Let us know if you are interested in adding your voice to address the climate crisis and, if you are a farmer, sign the farmer statement on climate change today!