Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Farm Bill is the Climate Bill

Photo: Hoosier Ag Today
Yesterday, a few hundred farmers went to Washington, D.C. to rally for passage of a new farm bill.  The Democrat controlled Senate has passed a Farm Bill that eliminates all traditional farm subsidies and replace them with a system to compensate growers when revenue from a crop is more than 10% below average with crop insurance kicking in for deep losses.  The Republican-controlled House is arguing over a competing approach that cuts food aid to the poor.  Farmers want both sides to pass a bill to take effect on September 30.  The House leaders have declined to take up the Farm Bill, either the Senate’s version of the proposed House version.  Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times writes that House leaders “are not eager to force their members to take a vote that would be difficult for some of them, nor would they wish to pass a measure largely with Democrats’ votes right before an election.

Yesterday the New York Times published a column by Mark Hertsgaard titled "Harvesting a Climate Disaster." Hertsgaard's column is about the farm bill acting as the United States' de facto climate bill and in their current forms, both the Senate and House versions of the legislation are "a disaster waiting to happen."
Hertsgaard sites the summer of 2012's extreme weather from the hottest July on record to the worst drought in 50 years.  Either bill will accelerate global warming by encouraging green house gas emissions and will make farms more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Hertsgaard goes on to explain that by some estimates, agriculture accounts for one third of global emissions.  America’s industrial agriculture system (especially meat production), and dependency on fertilizers contribute a great deal to those emissions.  Fertilizers contain nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 298 times more potent than CO2 over a century. Both farm bills continue to subsidize commodity crops and encourage high yield, environmentally degrading, agriculture.  
Hertsgaard writes that climate change resilience can be achieved with improved soil fertility which causes higher soil water retention. This means farmers must cut back on chemical fertilizers that kill the microorganisms which ventilate soil. 

Both farm bills increase the crop insurance program, but do not require farmers to take take individual measures to reduce climate vulnerability.  Hertsgaard recommends shifting federal policy to put longstanding emphasis on organic approaches to farming.  Hertsgaard recommends that Congress pass a one-year extension of the old bill and spend a year to develop (with the help of farmers and other stakeholders) a more climate-smart Farm Bill.  

This concept of climate change and agricultural resilience and adaptation is the central theme of CT NOFA's 2013 Winter Conference on March 2 at Wilton High School.  Our keynote speaker, David W. Wolfe from Cornell University is an expert on project climate change for the Northeast and adaptation.  Read about his presentation at an "Inside Cornell" luncheon last year on the Cornell Chronical website and watch it here. 

Always food for thought (or thought for food),

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