How the climate deal would help farmers help the environment

Climate-friendly agriculture (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The climate agreement reached last week by Senate Democrats could reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that American farmers produce by expanding programs that help accumulate carbon in the soil, fund climate-focused research and reduce abundant methane emissions from farms. cows.

The project includes more than $20 billion to improve the agricultural sector’s impact on the environment, primarily by expanding existing US Department of Agriculture programs that help farmers adopt best practices. Farmers would be paid to improve the health of their soil, withstand extreme weather and protect their land if the law were enacted.

The roughly $370 billion climate and energy spending deal would bring the country closer to halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, according to new analyses. This is something that many scientists say is important, and that President Joe Biden has promised. Senator Joe Manchin, DW. Va., a longtime advocate of climate legislation, has endorsed measures that would benefit electric vehicles, renewable energy and green agriculture. Agriculture is responsible for 11% of the country’s climate warming emissions.

The funding would expand programs favored by environmental groups and the agricultural sector, said Ben Thomas, who focuses on agriculture at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“They are voluntary, incentive-based, they get results in terms of implementing conservation practices on working lands,” said Thomas. “It’s great to see.”

Thomas said that historically, the agricultural sector has not aggressively addressed its contribution to climate change, but that hesitation has changed in recent years and more money will accelerate progress. There is a lot of potential, he said.

“It’s worth taking it very, very seriously,” Thomas said.

Cows burp a huge amount of methane, and agriculture is responsible for more than a third of man-made methane emissions, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. This is one way in which people’s diets – whether they are high in meat or dairy – contribute to the buildup of greenhouse gases. The project directs funds to alter what cows eat to reduce these emissions.

On farms, soil can retain or sequester carbon if left intact and covered by a crop. Project money will expand programs that help farmers reduce soil, implement climate-friendly crop rotation practices, and cover crops that are not for harvest but improve soil health.

“Historical funding validates the fact that these practices matter,” said Ranjani Prabhakar, an agriculture and climate policy expert at environmental group Earthjustice.

Cover crops, for example, are used by only a fraction of farmers. If its use were tripled — from about 5% of farmland to 15% — it could remove the equivalent of 14 megatons of carbon dioxide a year, roughly New Hampshire’s total annual emissions, according to Kevin Karl, an expert in food and weather. researcher at Columbia University.

“The adoption rate is so low,” Karl said. “There is a lot of potential for improvement.”

Federal authorities already offer help to farmers with a variety of environmental issues, including irrigation and fertilizer use. One program helps finance conservation easements for farmland.

Dan Sheafer works in nitrogen research with the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association and operates a 20-acre farm. He plants cover crops and minimizes soil disturbance – practices that benefit soil health and reduce soil erosion. But he said cover crops also have drawbacks, requiring farmers who want an environmental benefit to change their practices.

“There’s just more time involved in making cover crops,” he said.

The account also includes research money. While it is clear that proper soil management can capture carbon, more needs to be learned about important issues such as how long sequestered carbon stays in the soil.

Kaiyu Guan, a professor focused on climate and agriculture at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, said some people believe that farmers don’t pay enough attention to climate change.

“I think farmers shouldn’t be blamed, in fact they should be encouraged,” Guan said. “They’re not just doing this to be part of the solution to help the climate, they’re doing it to help their land.”

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all AP environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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