Farm Bill 2023 priorities & policies
Published June 3, 2022. Updated September 15, 2022.
The full list of policy provisions can be found here.
As the climate changes, farmers, ranchers, and foresters are concerned about the increasing threat of physical hazards, such as drought, flooding, and wildfires (Majkut et al., 2021). As such, many have been early adopters of innovative sustainable land management practices that simultaneously protect against physical hazards and help mitigate climate change. The next Farm Bill should enable producers to further develop natural climate solutions. Below are the Woodwell Climate Research Center’s priorities for the next Farm Bill.
- Ensure Carbon Markets are Credible
Carbon markets can provide financial benefits to producers while supplying environmental benefits to all Americans, such as increasing biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Carbon markets place a value on carbon stored in agricultural and forest lands, creating a credit that can be voluntarily bought or sold. With the increasing presence of voluntary carbon markets, we must ensure implementation includes transparent standards for measuring, reporting, and verifying (MRV) credits, which will ensure the long-term viability of carbon crediting programs and avoid double counting.1 Currently, there are various protocols for carbon credits that utilize different approaches, making it difficult to compare credits and guarantee a net reduction in GHG emissions.2
- Utilize the Conservation and Forestry Titles for Climate Solutions
The Conservation and Forestry titles of the Farm Bill should encourage natural climate solutions. Many conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Stewardship Program, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program, already incentivize some climate-smart practices. Yet, most programs are oversubscribed, so funding and enrollment should be increased to meet both producer demand and climate stewardship needs.
Climate-smart goals, such as reducing GHG emissions and improving soil health, should also be eligible activities under all conservation programs. These practices have many co-benefits, such as improving water retention and resilience. Likewise, the Healthy Forests Reserve Program and other incentive-based voluntary programs in the Forestry Title should increase funding and enrollment and include climate-smart practices as eligible activities.
Finally, land naturalization is key to achieving the rapid natural climate solutions that are needed. An example would be increasing enrollment for land retirement and easement programs, such as the CRP, Healthy Forest Reserve Program, and Wetlands Reserve Easements.
- Reduce Wildfire Risk
Fuel reduction by thinning can reduce the risk of wildfire ignition. To conduct risk-mitigating thinning, we recommend that diameter and basal area limits are established regionally, and no thinning should also occur in old-growth and mature forests. These recommendations focus on maximizing the carbon potential in U.S. forests while reducing wildfire risk and avoiding GHG emissions from fires. Even with additional forest thinning, wildfire frequency and severity are increasing across the United States, especially in the West and Alaska. As a result, additional fire management and suppression funding are needed to address the risk.
- Increase Eligibility and Usage of Crop Insurance
While the majority of U.S. cropland is insured, only about 19% of farms hold crop insurance.3 As physical hazards increase, we must reduce barriers for small-scale farmers to purchase crop insurance. Further, crop insurance should incentivize conservation practices (such as cover cropping) rather than disincentivizing them. Specifically, all Natural Resource Conservation Service-endorsed practices should be established as Risk Management Agency’s “Good Farming Practices” under the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation.4 These practices will increase the resilience of the farms and likely reduce crop yield losses.
- Increase Research Capacity
Best land management practices, especially when incorporating natural climate solutions, are complex and differ widely based on the ecosystem, climate, and type of agricultural production. While certain practices, such as no-till, work well and provide climate and conservation benefits for some farms, that might not be the case for farms in other regions. Therefore, funding should increase for USDA’s climate hubs and land-grant universities, which can study regional variability for land management practices. This investment will discourage one-size-fits-all solutions, which will not work for natural climate solutions.
Greater research capacity would also support the need for better monitoring and standardization as well as building a natural lands and environmental data infrastructure, which are needed for carbon markets.
- Incorporate Safeguards for Natural Climate Solutions
Finally, throughout the next Farm Bill, five safeguards should be incorporated for natural climate solutions.
- First, natural climate solutions should be designed with full consideration of climate risks. If benefits are expected to accrue decades into the future, then the changing climate and impacts on the potential carbon storage must be taken into account.
- Second, because the carbon stored in high-carbon ecosystems may take decades to replace if the stock is lost, high-carbon or biodiversity value ecosystems should not be degraded.
- Third, a full system accounting of all effects on the carbon cycle should be utilized when evaluating natural climate solutions.
- Fourth, natural climate solutions should aim to generate a net enhancement to human welfare while doing no harm to impacted stakeholders.
- Finally, natural climate solutions should be implemented with the full engagement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to mitigate environmental injustices.
The full readout of the safeguards and principles can be found here.
1 See Carbon Markets for Climate Smart Agricultural Practices report for more information on carbon markets. https://www.woodwellclimate.org/carbon_market_for_climate_smart_agricultural_practices
2 See Agricultural Soil Carbon Credits: Making sense of protocols for carbon sequestration and net greenhouse gas removals report. https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/content/agricultural-soil-carbon-credits-protocol-synthesis.pdf
3 Congressional Research Service. (2021). Federal Crop Insurance: A Primer. https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/R46686.pdf
4 Carbon180. (2021). Zero, Then Negative: The Congressional Blueprint for Scaling Carbon Removal. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b9362d89d5abb8c51d474f8/t/609c3255bf02607c0d3b9591/1620853036140/Carbon180+ZeroThenNegative.pdf
5 See Crediting agricultural soil carbon sequestration paper for more information. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abl7991
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