Climate policy and sustainability are buzzing on Capitol Hill, and the Biden Administration with the 117th Congress are expected to take action.
Climate change, sustainability, conservation and regenerative agriculture have been buzzwords across a gamut of industries for more than a decade. The focus on sustainability is intensifying, and the 117th Congress will certainly address agriculture sustainability in both old and new ways.
The association between agriculture and a changing environment is not new. In fact, it reaches back far before climate change was part of the general consciousness. The devastating Dust Bowl in the 1930s led to a conservation movement on Capitol Hill that spread like a West Texas dirt storm across the country. For nearly 100 years, agriculture has been on the forefront of conservation and sustainability, working to ensure land is productive and remains so for generations. While the vocabulary has evolved over the last century, the idea of maintaining and improving America’s farmland has been a priority on the farm and among policy makers in Washington for generations.
A new Congress and Administration in Washington, D.C., will likely bring a renewed focus on the role of agriculture in mitigating climate change. President-elect Joe Biden has named climate change as one of his top four priorities, and policymakers in the United States and around the world are increasingly looking to policy measures to encourage sustainable ag practices. The National Sorghum Producers believes sorghum is well positioned as a water smart and climate resilient crop to address many of those needs.
Sustainability was added to the federal code by the 1990 Farm Bill, but as the country works to meet emissions goals in industry, agriculture and daily life, our lawmakers have become increasingly focused on inking sustainability into law. From the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals to the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, sustainability permeates policy shifts in varying ways at all governmental levels.
The Biden Administration will have a markedly different approach to climate policy than the Trump Administration. In addition to naming climate change as one of his top four priorities, Biden has selected John Kerry to serve as the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate on the National Security Council and has indicated the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. The Biden transition team said the focus on climate change in regard to agriculture and conservation will “create jobs in climate-smart agriculture, resilience and conservation.”
On the agency side, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture was placed at USDA with the purpose of providing competitive grants to improve many areas of agriculture, including sustainability. USDA is funding research on sustainability through regional Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) programs. Additionally, the Growing Climate Solutions Act was proposed in 2020, charging USDA with providing technical assistance to farmers to help them participate in greenhouse gas credit markets and establishing a verification process. This bill was not passed in the 116th Congress but is expected to be reintroduced early in 2021.
More than 10 bills were introduced in 2019 and 2020 focused on regulating carbon, and at least five bills focused on climate change as a whole. The majority of the carbon-based bills were centered on a carbon tax, while others proposed the concept of cap and trade. While none of the carbon or climate bills proposed in the 116th Congress made much headway past a committee referral, the majority of their sponsors were reelected, and these bills, along with similar legislation, are expected to be prevalent in the 117th Congress.
In June 2020, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis unveiled a 500-plus page proposal based on 12 key pillars with a multitude of legislative recommendations aimed at placing a price on carbon emissions, tougher methane limits and energy efficiency in buildings. The primary focus of the proposal is to make the United States net-zero emissions by 2050. Pillar 8 is focused on investing in American agriculture as a climate solution and offers investments in voluntary “climate stewardship practices” and incentives to “incorporate energy efficiency & renewable energy on-farm.”
From policy to the private market, the world has signaled now is the time for renewed focus on agriculture and sustainability, and sorghum is positioning itself to tackle this challenge. Sorghum farmers have been preparing for more than a century — adopting new production techniques, reducing tillage, improving crop rotations, using less water to grow, and more. The National Sorghum Producers is actively engaged in dialogue and in partnerships to ensure sorghum producers have a seat at the table while these legislative proposals are crafted. Sorghum is a sustainable solution that contributes to healthy lifestyles, communities and ecosystems across the world.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.