In northern Idaho where my family runs a diversified grain, cattle and forestry operation, we are seeing the impacts of climate change firsthand — hotter hots, colder colds, wetter wets and drier dry spells.
It is tougher to get crops in the ground in the spring, and harder to finish harvest before snow flies. Weather extremes have challenged our cattle operations with reduced pasture forage and increased invasive weeds. Our timber stands are more vulnerable to damage from invasive pests, drought impacts and severe wind damage. No one can remember when we’ve had such high winds so frequently, or how many times we’ve had to re-roof our barn.
Farmers are on the frontlines of climate change, and we have a lot to lose if we ignore the growing impacts. Fortunately, we also have the opportunity to be part of the climate solution to ensure our operations and communities are resilient for generations to come.
Farms and forests have proven potential to be significant contributors to durable climate solutions. Improved fertilizer application, manure management and fewer tractor passes all cut greenhouse gas emissions. Enhancing forest management practices can boost soil carbon levels and sequester carbon in the trees themselves.
We have seen these benefits in our operation and see opportunities for them to happen on a far larger scale. But right now, technical and economic barriers often discourage and limit the adoption of climate-smart practices. Farmers may lack the financial capital to implement new practices, the risk protection measures to offset climate impacts on yields or the knowledge of how to take existing conservation practices to the next level.
That’s where Congress comes in. Last week, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee held a hearing on climate issues entitled Farmers and Foresters: Opportunities to Lead in Tackling Climate Change. I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with four other agricultural producers from around the country to testify about how federal policy can facilitate and reward agricultural climate solutions.
Farmers across America want to see voluntary, incentive-based programs and market-driven opportunities for the agriculture sector. We’re looking to Congress to advance policies guided by science that maximize measurable net carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reductions, while increasing the resilience of the land.
Policies must also be equitable and transparent. For example, smaller forestry operations like ours can have a harder time qualifying for and participating in voluntary markets that are looking for carbon contributions in the megatons. Congress can address this by allowing smaller landowners and tenants to bundle their climate contributions together. This will broaden participation and ensure equitable access to new revenue streams.
Any meaningful action must invest in farm-level technical assistance, monitoring to verify outcomes and research to improve scientific understanding of agricultural climate solutions over time. The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance has proposed more than 40 policy recommendations that would meet these criteria and have the support of a wide-range of environmental and agricultural advocacy groups.
Climate change is arguably the greatest threat to our industry in this generation, and one that will only get worse without action. Farms like ours stand ready to contribute, armed with our deep knowledge of the land we steward and the potential it holds to be part of this solution.
This is an area ripe for bipartisan congressional action, and the time to act is now.
Cori Wittman Stitt is a partner in Wittman Farms, a diversified crop, cattle and timber family business in northern Idaho. She is also a member of Environmental Defense Fund’s farmer advisory network.
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