Three priorities for a climate-smart farm bill

U.S. farmers and ranchers are already living with climate change. For example, they are facing shorter windows to get seeds in the ground and higher temperatures that can dry out soil faster. At the same time, agricultural production is a factor in climate change, contributing more than 10% of U.S. emissions. Congress owes it to farmers and ranchers to write a 2023 farm bill that does three things to advance climate-smart agriculture.

1. Support and reward farmers for reducing emissions

The 2023 farm bill must enable more farmers and ranchers, especially those who have been historically underserved by farm bill programs, to help stabilize the climate.

Essential to these efforts will be ensuring the nearly $20 billion in new funding for agricultural climate mitigation from the Inflation Reduction Act remains intact, allowing more farmers to participate in farm bill conservation programs that can help them cut more emissions. Programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, known as EQIP, provide financial incentives for producers interested in transitioning to climate-smart practices, but these programs currently turn people away because demand exceeds funding. So we must work to maintain robust funding levels to help meet this demand.

The farm bill must also empower livestock producers to cut methane emissions, by far the largest type of agricultural emissions. Methane causes one-third of the warming the world is already experiencing; reducing it is the fastest way to slow warming this decade.

Improving manure management, the source of about 9% of total U.S. methane emissions, is low hanging fruit for this farm bill. Increasing the number of on-farm technical assistance providers can reduce information barriers that keep farmers from adjusting manure management, and programs like the Rural Energy for America Program, known as REAP, can help lower financial barriers to making capital intensive changes.

Critically, the farm bill should ensure that methane mitigation technologies like biodigesters are always paired with additional treatment technologies for local, community-level environmental impacts. It must also ensure that financial and technical assistance are available for manure management approaches like solid-liquid separation that are economical for small- and medium-sized farms.

2. Increase financial support for climate resilience efforts

Smart farm bill investments will help U.S. agriculture stay productive in the face of climate headwinds, which EDF research has shown may start to slow yield growth for some U.S. commodity crops as soon as 2030.

Crop insurance will remain an essential risk management system. As climate risks to production increase, expanding crop insurance to ensure it supports resilience and adaptation efforts will be critical. Offering producers discounts on their premiums for mitigating climate risk or providing leeway if yields temporarily dip when introducing a new conservation practice will go a long way toward making climate-smart practices the norm.

Diversifying crops and introducing more climate-resilient varieties will also be important strategies for making individual farms and entire regions more resilient to climate and economic shocks. The farm bill should prioritize technical and financial support for farmers who want to add a new crop into their rotations or who want to test a variety that is more tolerant of higher temperatures or drought conditions. Making it easier to participate in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, or RCPP, can also help get resilient practices on the ground more quickly.

3. Invest in research, development and measurement

Realizing the full potential of agricultural climate solutions will require major increases in research and development.

Enteric methane emissions, or cow burps, contribute about 30% of total U.S. methane emissions, but dairy farmers and cattle ranchers do not currently have access to effective solutions. Congress must significantly increase federal investment in research and development of enteric methane-inhibiting solutions. Livestock producers will need a suite of interventions that are scientifically proven to be climate beneficial, safe for people and animals, and user-friendly. Congress must ensure that farm bill conservation programs are primed to help farmers and ranchers adopt new enteric solutions as soon as they become commercially available.

Better data access, measurement and verification will be necessary to increase certainty that agricultural emissions are coming down and that climate resilience is increasing. The farm bill could move to consolidate and anonymize data from research sites and farms in order to illuminate links between management changes, productivity and environmental outcomes. This will improve producers’ confidence in adopting climate-smart practices, and it will give policymakers better feedback on farm bill program efficacy.

The 2023 farm bill is a historic opportunity for Congress to build on bipartisan efforts to support climate-smart agriculture. With a focus on climate mitigation, adaptation and innovation, this farm bill can position U.S. agriculture to become a global leader in climate and conservation solutions and ensure that the agricultural economy remains strong for generations to come.

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