Deirdre Henderson: With support, California’s farmers can deliver climate solutions

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty was everywhere. Would the virus spread, and where? What did this mean for day-to-day life? Pretty quickly, that uncertainty showed up at the grocery store. We remember seeing partially empty shelves as people panicked and stocked up on food.

Today, plenty of uncertainty remains, but our grocery store shelves are full again. America’s food supply chain has proven to be strong and resilient. America’s farmers are at the beginning of that supply chain, including growers here in central and northern California. We’re so grateful for the work they’ve done to keep us fed even during these tumultuous times.

But COVID-19 is not the only challenge facing our country or our farmers. Climate change, with its unpredictable precipitation, rising heat, and stronger extreme weather events, brings another level of uncertainty to America’s agriculture sector. It’s time for Congress to enact legislation that will combat climate change and give farmers more support.

Encouragingly, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives have introduced the Growing Climate Solutions Act. This legislation provides the incentive for farmers,ranchers and foresters to engage in sustainable practices by helping them to access lucrative carbon credit markets. Basically, it will be easier for these agriculture producers to get paid for emissions they reduce and carbon they sequester. The bill provides for technical assistance to develop practices that are eligible for carbon credits, measure the value of those credits, and certify them for trading on carbon markets. This is excellent news for farmers, ranchers and foresters and for the planet, since agriculture and forestry contribute an estimated 10.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the USDA.

A local 501(c)(3) non-profit, Tahoe Food Hub, is focused on sustainable agriculture as a means to mitigate climate change. “The food choices we make can have a positive impact on our climate,” says Executive Director and founder Susie Sutphin. “Regenerative farming practices sequester carbon in the soil helping to mitigate climate change and build drought tolerant soil. If farms can earn carbon credits while producing, healthy fresh produce it is a win-win for the environment, our economy and our communities.”

Here in California, climate change is already affecting our growers with rising temperatures, more unstable weather, longer and more severe droughts, flooding, shorter chill seasons, uncertain harvest dates and wildfire. The Growing Climate Solutions Act would help them combat these concerning trends and reap a financial benefit while they do so.

Truckee resident Elizabeth Lokey Aldrich is a carbon credit market expert with the environmental consulting firm Bluesource. “The Growing Climate Solutions Act,” she said, “provides much-needed support to farmers who are largely left out of existing carbon markets. By helping connect farmers with carbon offset developers, this Act facilitates a market that rewards farmers for making systemic changes to their growing, tilling, and grazing practices that can have a substantial impact on the climate.”

In July, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on this legislation. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking member on the committee and a cosponsor of the Growing Climate Solutions Act said, “While farmers are uniquely affected by the climate crisis, they are also a critically important part of the solution.”

We couldn’t agree more. Even as farmers need support to navigate our changing climate, they have huge potential to help prevent the worst of the possible changes. Congress should continue to work together to pass bipartisan legislation that values farmers’ contributions to feeding America and solving the challenge of climate change.

Deirdre Henderson is the group leader of the North Tahoe Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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