The agriculture, forestry and other land use sector of the economy accounts for almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
When U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts released the framework of the Green New Deal earlier this year, farm groups met the release of the non-binding resolution that calls for a shift in energy production and public resources to carbon-neutralize the U.S. by 2030 with a chilly reception.
The National Farmers Union said the resolution is meant to kickstart broad discussions on how the U.S. will both mitigate and adapt to climate change, with NFU Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Communications Rob Larew saying in a news release, “Farmers Union members understand the need for action on climate change, and they will be active in ensuring farmers have the tools and incentives they need to both adapt to and help mitigate climate change.”
Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson was less diplomatic, calling the proposal “totally unrealistic.”
“It is clear its authors and supporters have spent no time in rural areas or even have a basic understanding of how food is produced,” Nelson said in a news release.
However, there is optimism from some parts of the agriculture industry that the Green New Deal could have a positive impact on farming.
Part of the Green New Deal calls for “a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food,” and for the government to work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the U.S. to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.”
One area where the agriculture industry could play a large role in meeting the goal of a carbon-neutral future is that where the sector contributes to 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This estimate, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, does not include the CO2 that ecosystems remove from the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in biomass, dead organic matter and soils, which offset about 20 percent of emissions from the sector.
To try to get more of those in agriculture on board with the Green New Deal, the National Family Farm Coalition and the Pesticide Action Network hosted a “Farmers for a Green New Deal” online forum April 24.
“Farmers have fewer options today as profits are leaving farms and collecting in seed and chemical company corporate boardrooms instead of our communities,” said forum moderator Ahna Kruzic of the Pesticide Action Network. “Farm incomes are in free-fall, farms are getting ever larger, and just a few companies control the markets for grain, meat, seeds, inputs and many other products.
“Not only can we sequester carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change through agriculture ... but a transition to these methods must revitalize our farms, our communities and our economies.”
Panelist Patti Naylor, an organic farmer in Iowa and board member of the Wisconsin-based Family Farm Defenders, said the Green New Deal discussion provides an opportunity for the agriculture industry to look in the mirror and see ways it can change.
Naylor said 30 percent of Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, while between 2007 and 2012, more than 20 percent of Iowa’s pasture land was converted to crop land.
“From an Iowa perspective, I see industrial agriculture all around me,” Naylor said. “Industrial agriculture is very capital-intensive, with large machinery and a high reliance on technology.
“Here in Iowa, I see farmers stressed for financial reasons. It’s a real ongoing farm crisis.”
Naylor said that for agriculture to accomplish the goals set forth by the Green New Deal, greater diversity would be required in the types of farms, farmers and crops. She said a parity system that would pay a living wage would help accomplish that transition.
“A parity system would include fair prices, supply management and food reserves,” Naylor said. “These New Deal policies were put in place in the 1930s but then dismantled by bipartisan agreement and replaced by today’s free-market, supply-and-demand form of agriculture. That’s what’s put us in the jeopardy that we’re in now.
“By changing the economics of agriculture, farmers change how they use their land, we change how we grow our food, and it changes how we look at the world and the resources that the world provides.”
Jordan Treakle, policy director of National Family Farm Coalition, said that while the Green New Deal is unlikely to make any political headway this year, candidates in the 2020 presidential elections are likely to begin weighing in with their stance on the proposal soon.
“Making sure the government is receptive and listening to the needs of rural communities is critical,” Treakle said. “Legislatively, the Green New Deal is a vague, non-binding resolution with very little content on food and agriculture issues.
“The benefit of that is that it’s carved out this space to talk about these issues.”