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Our Vision: What should the Biden-Harris administration do in its first 100 days to advance climate-smart agriculture?

14 January 2021
Deborah Atwood

Join us on February 4 from 12:00pm – 1:00pm ET for a virtual panel where bipartisan experts will discuss the meaningful actions that the Biden Administration and Congress can enact within the first 100 days to promote climate smart agriculture across the country. Register for the event here.

As the country prepares for a presidential transition, the AGree Initiative is looking ahead to what the Biden-Harris administration can do to advance climate-smart agricultural practices – and specifically actions that can be taken in the administration’s first 100 days in office. While these recommendations are focused on the Biden-Harris Administration, it is important to note that this important work can only be accomplished through on-going, collaborative, and bi-partisan action advanced by both the administration and Congress.

To start, there are several steps The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can take to better understand and incentivize climate-smart agriculture for a more resilient, profitable, and equitable American agriculture system.

The AGree Initiative has, through its two bipartisan coalitions – the AGree Economic and Environmental Risk Coalition and the AGree Climate, Food, and Agriculture Dialogue – developed policy recommendations that, if implemented, will build a better food and agriculture system. We have commissioned research, conducted extensive analysis using robust data sets, built consensus, and advocated and lobbied for policy and analysis that will incentivize broader adoption of agricultural conservation practices. Our policy ideas have been integrated into the 2018 farm bill, the 2018 Ag Data Act, and other recent policy and legislative efforts.

By implementing policies to promote broader adoption of agricultural conservation practices on working lands, USDA can improve farm profitability, increase resilience, reduce risk, enhance environmental performance, and sequester carbon. Key levers for change include improving data collection, sharing, and analysis at USDA. There are meaningful actions the Biden-Harris administration can take in its first 100 days to catalyze results and set a tone for the next four years that will prioritize policies to address the urgent climate crisis.

Recommendations for Improving Data Collection, Sharing, and Analysis

USDA has access to rich data resources, especially data related to crop yields, yield variability, and conservation practices. USDA can take several actions to immediately improve its data collection and analysis to further study the correlation between conservation practice adoption and farm profitability, risk, environmental performance, and carbon sequestration. Our recommendations  for USDA include:

  • Identify data sets needed to understand the impacts of conservation practices on crop yields, soil health, carbon sequestration, and reducing risk. Integrate and analyze the data to consider the impacts of conservation practices.
  • Establish a conservation and farm productivity data warehouse to make the results of the data collection and analysis available to academic institutions and researchers.
  • Improve the interoperability of datasets collected by USDA.
  • Widely disseminate the research, analyzed data, and other information obtained that demonstrates the impacts of conservation and planting practices on enhancing crop yields and soil health, reducing risk and improving farm and ranch profitability, and increasing ecosystem services in a manner that makes it easily used and implemented by producers and other stakeholders.

Recommendations for Incentivizing Climate Smart Agriculture Through Crop Insurance Rates and Policies

There is a growing recognition in the food and ag sector that many parts of the agriculture finance system do not adequately reflect the risks of climate change. USDA can revise crop insurance rates and policies to explicitly recognize the risk reduction benefits of conservation investment and re-align financial signals and incentives to drive greater adoption of conservation practices on working lands.

As described in the Climate 21 Project transition memo, “Despite the growing awareness of the link between soil health practices and risk, [the Risk Management Agency ] does not utilize soil data in designing products, determining rates, or setting guarantees.”  To explore how the RMA can incentivize climate smart agriculture through financial tools, Secretary Vilsack should:

  • Request a report from RMA on the potential to incentivize climate smart agriculture through the crop insurance program.
  • Encourage RMA to support crop insurance products under development that would address the risks producers may face when they use regenerative agricultural practices that are intended to conserve resources, improve soil health, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Support an independent review of RMA’s risk rating model to review its assessment of climate resiliency and risk attributes of agricultural conservation practices, including cover crops, crop rotations, and reduced and no till systems.

These recommendations can be implemented in the first 100 days and will lay the groundwork for positive change across our food and agriculture system. AGree stands ready to work with Secretary Vilsack, the USDA, and Congress to create a resilient, profitable, and sustainable agriculture system. We look forward to getting to work and ushering in this new era of climate-smart agriculture.

Feb 4, 2021 Event Discussing the Biden Administration and Congressional Agenda for Climate Smart Agriculture

AGree hosted a virtual panel on February 4, 2021 to examine policies that the Biden Administration and Congress can enact within the first 100 days to promote climate smart agriculture across the country. Bipartisan experts discussed the meaningful actions the Biden-Harris administration and Congress can take to catalyze results and set a tone for the next four years.