American Farmland Trust Welcomes Agricultural Policy Recommendations from House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
This statement can be attributed to Tim Fink, AFT federal policy director.
American Farmland Trust (AFT) commends the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis for its agricultural policy recommendations, and appreciated the opportunity to have its Climate Initiative Director, Dr. Jen Moore-Kucera, provide expert testimony. The Committee’s report, titled “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America”, underscores agriculture’s unique role as a “natural climate solution” critical to limiting the effects of global warming.
The report’s recommendations cover a broad array of agricultural climate solutions, including many in which AFT is engaged, such as increasing carbon sequestration through regenerative agricultural practices, protecting and retaining farmland, and supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
AFT strongly supports the recommendation to increase funding and capacity for USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). These programs are critical for incentivizing producers to adopt regenerative practices with proven climate benefits, such as cover cropping and rotational grazing. AFT’s research estimates that if 100% of U.S. cropland adopted conservation tillage, and just 25% adopted cover crops, agriculture’s annual emissions would be reduced by a quarter. In addition to sequestering carbon, many of these practices make soils more productive and resilient to flooding and drought, while also improving water quality. Additionally, healthier soils can help farmers reduce inputs, benefitting their bottom line.
The Committee’s recommendations also recognize the importance of public/private partnerships, such as those supported by RCCP, as well as the role that states can play in advancing regenerative practices. The report spotlights Iowa’s highly successful crop insurance rebate for cover crop planting program which AFT helped expand to Illinois.
AFT was particularly pleased to see the Committee’s recommendations related to protecting farmland as an essential tool in combatting climate change. AFT’s 2018 “Greener Fields” study found that cutting the rate of farmland loss in California by 75% over the next thirty years, while encouraging higher-density development, would avoid 33 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per acre per year by 2050. Our newest report, “Farms Under Threat: The State of the States,” revealed that between 2001 and 2016, 11 million acres of America’s farmland (2,000 acres a day) were paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that threaten the viability of farming.
AFT supports the report’s recommendations to strengthen the Farmland Protection Policy Act, establish a “Debt for Working Lands” program to relieve USDA Farm Service Agency loans in exchange for land protection, and to study and provide technical assistance to producers around dual-use renewable energy siting to keep farmland in farming. We strongly endorse the recommendation to increase support for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which provides matching funds to public and private entities for permanent protection of agricultural land. However, we encourage Congress to fast-track ACEP participants into conservation programs such as EQIP and CSP, rather than requiring a conservation plan for all participants. Otherwise, this could deter ACEP participation, place an undue monitoring burden on easement holders, and limit the ability to respond to changes in conservation science over the course of a perpetual easement.
Not only is it important to keep agricultural land from being developed, it is important to ensure that the land is accessible to a new generation of producers, a majority of whom describe their operations as “sustainable.” AFT’s Farmland Information Centerhat up to 40% of our nation’s farmland will be transferred in the next 15 years, supporting the Committee’s recommendations to increase land access through programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program’s (CRP) Transition Incentives Program. This program incentivizes landowners to sell or lease land coming out of CRP contracts to young, beginning, and historically disadvantaged farmers. We similarly appreciate the report’s recommendations to use the tax code to encourage the sale of agricultural land to these categories of producers.
AFT thanks the Committee for their forward-thinking recommendations and applauds their recognition of the essential role our nation’s farmers and ranchers must play in addressing climate change. We believe that climate change is both a challenge and an opportunity to engage in win-win-win solutions that benefit the land, the environment, and the people who steward the land. We look forward to working closely with Congress and our partners in advancing these climate solutions.