Not all agriculture is good for the planet, but regenerative agriculture and forestry practices are climate-friendly, not only sequestering carbon, but building healthy soil that retains water and increases habitat for wildlife and pollinating insects. These methods have been used by Black and Indigenous communities for generations, and they are increasingly being employed more broadly by farmers across the country. As the climate crisis worsens, it is critical that agriculture and farming practices and policies are developed and implemented that prioritize healthy soil, carbon sequestration, water conservation, biodiversity, and sustainable use of our natural resources.
Farmers, farmworkers and rural communities are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, making it critical that their experience, knowledge, and practices are part of the climate solution as well. Policies that support farmers in engaging in climate-friendly agriculture practices are only part of the solution. Industrial agriculture and multinational corporations that prioritize profit over people, the environment, and healthy rural communities must be held accountable for the harms caused by pollution and extractive practices and to our air, water, and land.
Policymakers can confront the climate crisis by supporting policies that prioritize people over corporations while promoting small and mid-sized farmers to employ regenerative practices.
Check out some of the policies and principles that policymakers are working on to support a healthy climate and protect the environment from polluting industries while holding corporations accountable for their harms:
The gold standard of regenerative farming practices is managed grazing (also called intensive rotational grazing), in which ruminants like cattle, sheep, or goats graze on a rotation of perennial grasses. The practice sequesters carbon, builds soil health and moisture absorption, and reduces fuels in fire-prone regions. Pasture-based livestock farms and ranches also offer an array of beneficial environmental services and contribute to the rural economy by providing healthy food for the local community.
- The New York’s (2021 NY A 5386) Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act establishes a program to assist farmers in improving the health of their soil. The bill creates a funding stream to support research and provides matching grants to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implement water management systems on farmland, and encourage soil health and resiliency. The program is designed to prioritize socially disadvantaged farmers.
- Minnesota’s (2021 MN HF 701) soil health bill not only centers race and equity but also sets an ambitious goal that 100 percent of tillable and grazeable acres employ cover crops, perennial crops, no-till, or managed rotational grazing by 2040.
Well-managed state forest lands also provide rural communities with economic opportunities and environmental benefits. State policymakers should consider public land forest management that protects mature forests and caps annual timber harvest. Many states have passed legislation similar to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which requires an environmental analysis of activities on state-owned lands. Any state-level environmental protection act should ensure robust public comment, environmental analysis, and assessment of the impact on Indigenous communities and the climate. Policy to actively manage the wild/urban interface through prescribed fire, small-diameter thinning, and managed grazing can help to reduce fuels and protect communities from catastrophic wildfire.
Protecting pollinators by incentivizing pollinator habitat and banning dangerous petro-chemical pesticides and insecticides such as neonicotinoids and chlorpyrifos (including in seed treatments) is important to encourage biodiversity, protect the soil and the health of young children.
- In Nebraska (NE 2021 LB507) policymakers considered a bill to prohibit neonicotinoid-treated seeds in ethanol production.
- Four states have restricted the use of chlorpyrifos, with Maryland (2020 MD 300) being the most recent. In 2018, Hawaii (2018 HI SB 3095) was the first state to prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” is an industrial practice to access underground oil and gas reserves. Facking is a direct threat to farmland, groundwater and drinking wells. Banning fracking or classifying it’s waste as hazardous is an important step in addressing the exploitation and harms to rural communities from this industry.
Policymakers are looking to address the widespread human health and soil impacts from PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals which are included in a wide range of products, from takeout containers to firefighting foam. Due to its widespread use, PFAS is regularly found in drinking water and soil. Mounting research links PFAS exposure to multiple cancers, reproductive damage, endocrine disruption, and impaired fetal development. The substances are known as “forever chemicals,” as they take thousands of years to break down. Remediation is timely and costly. Farmers who find PFAS contamination in their soil often lack the resources and support for remediation, leaving them with no option but to leave the land fallow, costing them the profit of the crop they otherwise would have planted.
For more information visit the Blueprint for Rural Policy Action in the States. If you are a legislator that would like support working on climate friendly agriculture policies and holding polluting industries accountable, reach out to SiX Agriculture and Food Systems Team at [email protected]—we’re here to help.