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The Hill: Bringing farmers to the table on climate change

Washington, September 23, 2020
BY REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA.), OPINION CONTRIBUTOR 

A stuffy Capitol Hill hearing room differs quite a bit from the wide open, rural landscape of Louisa County, Va. But no matter where I meet with Dustin Madison, his message is always consistent: agriculture and conservation are not separate worlds. They go hand in hand.

In addition to growing corn, soybeans and other row crops in Virginia’s 7th District, Dustin serves as a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) certified crop consultant. In this role, he works with other farmers to identify and overcome barriers that are preventing them from implementing environmentally beneficial practices. Sometimes that means raising awareness about the financial benefits these changes could bring to their operation, while other times it means connecting farmers with the right U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program to help cover start-up costs.

When talking about this mission, Hugh Hammond Bennett, the first chief of the NRCS, had a simple piece of advice: “Take care of the land, and the land will take care of you.”

When Dustin travelled from my district in October 2019 to testify before members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, he brought this vital message with him.

“No-till, cover crops, things like that are big conservation words — but they’re a big part of our lives.”

He stressed how major this shift has been since the 1990s, when conservation and environmentalism were not as integral to the everyday realities of farming as they are today.

Too often, farmers and producers are left out of the national conversation on the climate crisis — or even dismissed altogether. But in reality, their expertise is a big part of the solution.

Our farmers are constantly deploying conservation techniques that keep our environment strong — and it’s time we made them a consistent part of our efforts to protect it.

In June 2020, I introduced the Growing Climate Solutions Act alongside Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation works to incentivize carbon-reducing conservation practices, and it gives American farmers a seat at the table in the fight against climate change — a fight in which their voices have been minimized for too long.

For generations, farmers in Central Virginia and across the United States have engaged in voluntary conservation practices that have not only improved crop quality, but also protected our clean soil and water. The Growing Climate Solutions Act capitalizes on that legacy of stewardship by strengthening the partnership role that farmers already play in our work to conserve our natural resources and improve the trajectory of our changing climate.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act would encourage more farmers, growers and agribusinesses to embrace climate-smart practices by creating a one-stop shop for information and by creating a USDA certification program for third-party verifiers. These tools and resources would help solve technical barriers that often prevent landowners from participating in carbon credit markets. 

Third-party verifiers would establish protocols and methodologies for farming practices that, if implemented, help sequester carbon and combat climate change. Once that’s complete, farmers can be compensated. By establishing this certification program for third-party verifiers, more farmers would be able to get the transparent and trustworthy information they need to generate carbon credits on their land and receive a financial incentive through the carbon credit marketplace.

Our bill is supported by a strong, diverse coalition of conservation-focused organizations, farm groups, and industry leaders. The bill has already earned support from organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, and Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, as well as corporations like Microsoft and Ocean Spray.

This broad slate of endorsements, from groups representing a diverse group of stakeholders and a variety of causes, confirms what farmers like Dustin Madison already know: the crossroads of agriculture and environmentalism is fertile ground for future bipartisan collaboration.

When Dustin Madison travelled from Virginia’s 7th District and testified in October of 2019, he succinctly captured the common-sense approach that today’s farmers and growers are taking to environmental efforts.

“It’s the Same as in any business — put your money where it counts, make good decisions, use all the data you have available to make those decisions, and hit the repeat button,” he said.

As chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, I’ve heard this sentiment expressed by farmers across the country. This business-driven practicality, paired with an in-depth understanding of how climate change impacts the lands they work with every day, equips America’s agriculture community to be one of the leading forces in the fight against climate change.

Climate change is one of the most urgent challenges facing the American people today. In our ongoing pursuit of lasting solutions, we cannot afford to leave farmers out of the conversation. Instead, we can focus on growing solutions together.

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