US NFU advocates for carbon markets

NFU President Rob Larew testifies before Senate Agriculture Committee on the Growing Climate Solutions Act, saying that carbon markets contribute to the financial and environmental stability of family farm agriculture.
calendar icon 25 June 2020
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As family farmers grapple with the dual crises of a global pandemic and climate change, carbon markets present a critical solution for both, according to National Farmers Union (NFU) President Rob Larew.

In testimony presented today to the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Larew highlighted the many challenges the American agriculture industry is currently enduring. “Family farmers and ranchers face an uncertain economic future,” Larew said, citing low commodity prices and unstable export markets, both of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, farmers are holding record levels of debt and declaring bankruptcy at the highest rate since 1981.

Though the pandemic has “roiled domestic markets and exposed weaknesses in the food supply chain and farm safety net,” ultimately, it is a relatively short-term problem that will likely be resolved within the next several years. Climate change, on the other hand, “is the single greatest long-term challenge facing family farmers and ranchers, rural communities, and global food security.” Rising average temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, changing growing seasons, increasingly frequent and severe weather events, and rising sea levels are already making it more difficult to grow crops and raise livestock – difficulties that will only intensify over time.

But the United States isn’t helpless to address the climate crisis; there are ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and “farmers and ranchers, if provided the right tools, can be a key part of a solution,” as Larew told the committee. Primarily, they can “reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a meaningful scale” through land management practices that build soil health and sequester atmospheric carbon. Coincidentally, these practices also promote farmland’s resilience to drought and flooding. On top of that, farmers can “contribute to a clean energy future thorough the production of renewable energy and biofuels, which will be key in ensuring the United States’ long-term energy security.”

These efforts, though effective, often require a considerable temporal and monetary investment, as well as technical expertise and labour, all of which may be particularly onerous for farmers to take on as they cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic. That’s where carbon markets come in. By creating “a sustainable revenue stream for farmers as they work to sequester carbon,” carbon markets can contribute to both the financial and environmental sustainability of family farm agriculture.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would create a certification programme for technical service providers to work with farmers as they implement practices to sequester carbon and sell the credits, is an important move towards establishing such markets. NFU endorsed the bipartisan bill when it was introduced earlier this month. In testimony, Larew reiterated his support, indicating that that bill is a “sound first step in developing strong bipartisan climate policy for America’s family farmers and ranchers.”

Larew suggested several additions to strengthen the bill, including mechanisms to prevent farm-level consolidation, robust funding for public climate research, and protections for farmers from bad actors or faulty market efforts. “NFU commits to working with the committee to ensure the Growing Climate Solutions Act adequately reflects the needs of family farmers and ranchers,” he said in conclusion. “I look forward to continuing this dialogue about the role of family farmers and ranchers in addressing the climate crisis.”

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