U.S. farmers have been on an economic roller coaster for the past decade. Whether the shocks have come from demand destruction from recent trade wars, extreme weather like the heavy precipitation we saw in 2019, or supply chain disruptions like the ethanol facility and meat plant closures we’re seeing this year from COVID-19, it’s become clear to many of us that diversified revenue streams are the key to our survival.
To better weather these shocks, farmers like me will benefit from having access to multiple markets for a wide variety of crops and livestock. Steady, ongoing revenue streams will help smooth the ups and downs, and that’s where environmental markets have real potential to boost both economic and environmental resilience.
Farmers already use conservation practices like cover crops or conservation tillage that build soil health and provide environmental benefits such as reducing emissions or creating wildlife habitat. These same practices would also generate a valued commodity that could be sold to companies that want to offset impacts from their operations.
In the past, the cost and complexity of certifying credits has kept many farmers from participating in greenhouse gas markets, a common type of environmental market. That could be about to change, thanks to the Growing Climate Solutions Act.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act would simplify and standardize the certification process for generating credits and help farmers realize more returns on their investments in credit-worthy practices.
The bipartisan act — introduced by Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) — would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “certify the certifiers.” USDA would review the science and define the rules of the road. Then approved private sector certifiers would work directly with farmers to find value in the conservation practices farmers choose to use.
These certifiers would be akin to the crop consultants and extension agents that farmers already work with closely. Yes, farmers would need to pay for these services, but participation is voluntary, and I can say that for me, personally, the ease of working with a private sector expert instead of having to navigate the certification process myself would be worth it.
The economic rollercoaster that farmers are on seems to be speeding up every year, with higher highs and lower lows. Revenue from providing environmental benefits would be like a seat belt on the rollercoaster, helping farm businesses stay safe across the ups and downs, reducing future risks and shocks, and setting a good example for other stewards of the land.
Agriculture has a tremendous opportunity to lead by example with impactful, common sense climate solutions. Farmers also want to make our farms as resilient as possible so that they survive for generations to come. By opening the door for farmers to engage in voluntary environmental marketplaces, this bill meets both of those needs.
Brent Bible is a first-generation grain farmer in central Indiana. He is an adviser to Environmental Defense Fund and member of the Soil Health Partnership.