On January 20, 2021, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Since then, he has passed over 50 executive orders with more on their way. Despite the lingering effects of the global pandemic, climate protection and clean energy remain primary focuses for President Biden’s administration.
This includes setting the US on a course of eliminating carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035. In regards to agriculture, Biden has said he wants US farming to be “the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions and create new sources of income for farmers in the process, by paying farmers to put their land in conservation and plant cover crops that use the soil to capture carbon.”
But what exactly does this mean for the future of US farming?
The Biden Administration’s Plans for Farming and Emission Reduction
On his first day as president, Biden reentered America in the Paris Agreement. Though the agreement doesn’t specifically focus on agriculture, farming does play a role in our nation’s carbon and nitrogen emissions. Additionally, warmer temperatures and unseasonable weather can heavily impact farming productivity.
Ultimately, President Biden plans to empower farmers to help in achieving emission goals and creating a more sustainable future for agriculture. This, however, poses a number of issues. First and foremost, “climate change” remains a contentious topic, with many farmers remaining unconvinced of its severity. Even for those who do believe climate change poses a serious threat, the overhead cost that comes with implementing green farming practices can prove to be an insurmountable hurdle.
In order for farmers to get onboard with the new administration’s environmental plans, assistance is needed. This is where the USDA comes in. The Biden administration has said that the USDA will serve as “a linchpin of the next Administration’s climate strategy.”
How exactly this plays out remains to be seen, however. Currently, there are talks of expanding and increasing funding for existing conservation programs, which have proven successful in protecting the environment and restoring health to damaged and unusable farmland. The most prominent of these programs is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
Since 1985, CRP has made it possible for farmers to take marginal land out of active production and establish grasslands, wetlands, wildlife habitat, pollinator habitat, and more. In exchange for doing so, CRP contract holders receive market-based rental payments. Not only can CRP be very beneficial for the environment, but it also allows for farmers to earn money on otherwise marginal and underperforming land.
Additionally, there has been an increased focus on establishing a national carbon market. US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen says “We cannot solve the climate crisis without effective carbon pricing. I am fully supportive of effective carbon pricing, and I know that the President is as well.”
While carbon markets are available in select parts of the US, they lack cohesive pricing and structure, limiting their overall effectiveness. It’s also difficult for individual farmers to join and benefit from these markets. Creating a system that’s managed under the USDA could solve the problem, allowing farmers to directly benefit from sequestering carbon without having to go through a larger third-party.
In our next post, we’ll dive deeper into the proposed plans for establishing a carbon market and potentially creating a carbon bank under the USDA.