Capitol Hill tries to help rural America cash-in on carbon

Jun 26, 2020  | 5 min  | Ep4545

      Representatives from a broad range of agricultural groups gathered in Washington D.C. this week to testify about a piece of legislation that could move farmers and ranchers one step closer to participating in a carbon credit market. 
      The Senate Agriculture Committee, meeting in person for the first time since the coronavirus shuttered D.C. offices last March, held a hearing to gather opinions on the recently introduced Growing Climate Solutions Act. The measure, sponsored by several Midwest senators, would be administrated by the USDA.
      The legislation attempts to address financial struggles facing agriculture as well as providing a way to reduce the impact of climate change.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R - Kansas: “Maintaining the health of our planet for future generations is of course paramount. So is feeding the billions of people that populate the earth today and in the years ahead. In order for these two distinct needs to be met there must be meaningful acknowledgement and support for the role technology plays in feeding more and more hungry people. Growing demand and production must be balanced with consideration for the impacts on soil, water, and other natural resources. I want to emphasize the importance of accurate data and any climate related discussion. How much have improved farming technologies and practice already accomplished in sequestering carbon?”

      The proposed voluntary program allows growers to adopt practices that trap and hold carbon emissions, reducing the carbon footprint of their operations. Third parties, certified by the USDA, would partner with farmers to find financial market value in those carbon reduction practices which would create a new revenue stream for farmers and ranchers.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D – Michigan: “Carbon markets offer agriculture producers an opportunity to create additional revenue streams. With all the uncertainty from COVID 19, and trade, and weather, farmers need new market opportunities now more than ever. At the same time, companies across the country are looking for ways to offset their emissions though carbon markets. That means farmers and foresters have an exciting opportunity to be rewarded for the voluntary sustainable steps they're taking through generating and selling carbon credits.”

      Those signing up to support the measure are groups that would appear to be unlikely partners including the American Farm Bureau Federation, The National Farmers Union and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Zippy Duval, President, American Farm Bureau Federation: ”Our advancements in sustainability are due to the adoption of technologies. And they are due to farmers overwhelming participating in voluntary, incentive based conservation programs.” 

      Brent Bible, and Indiana farmer and a member of the Environmental Defense Fund, testified before the committee in support of the measure but cautioned the program needs to be adopted by a large number of farmers and ranchers to be successful.  
Brent Bible, Indiana Farmer: “These practices and initiatives that we reach will not reach a broader of farming audience if we can't figure out how to scale up the current rates of adoption conservation practices. And that's why I like the Growing Climate Solutions Act. It opens the door for farmer participation in a market based system that rewards farmers for implementing conservation practices on their farms if they choose to do so.”

      A few senators emphasized the need to preserve the independence of farmers and ranchers enrolling in the program.
Sen. John Boozman, R – Arkansas :”What we don’t want, and what I know what you don’t want, are the third party providers, the verifiers, who are going to receive a USDA certified label, or the corporations that want to green wash their businesses, that they are the real benefiters. I worry a little bit about companies dictating how farmers should farm.”

      Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, agreed and stressed the importance of the USDA’s administration of the program. 
Rob Larew, President, National Farmers Union: ““I think when the first things to ensure is that, we first are looking at this is, uh, voluntary private market. And so in that farmers would have the option uh, to participate or not. Assuming that the verification system is rigorous, and does add that legitimacy to it, I think that USDA's role in this process is going to be critical to ensuring the trust that farmers can have in quite frankly the other players along the line.”

      The bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives and is receiving bipartisan support in both chambers.
      For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy

Producer contact: torpy@iowapbs.org, @TVTorpy on twitter

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