Although blamed for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture has a “great track record” through land stewardship and biofuels in mitigating climate change, says Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, in looking ahead to the Biden administration. “We must make sure we are at the table for discussions around climate change.”
Speaking during the opening session of the AFBF annual convention, held online this year, Duvall said, “Farmers have a great story to tell when it comes to protecting our environment,” noting that roughly 140 million acres, or 219,000 square miles, of farmland are enrolled in federal soil and water conservation programs and biofuels “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 71 million tonnes per year.”
“Now, I’m not saying we can rest on those laurels. But I believe agriculture’s great track record shows just how much we can achieve when farmers and ranchers are at the table when we develop solutions,” said Duvall.
President-elect Biden has described climate change as an existential threat and vowed to propose comprehensive legislation to slow global warming. He wants American agriculture to be the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, and says farmers can earn money as part of it by sequestering carbon in the soil. One think tank report suggested steps such as a “carbon bank” at USDA to assist landowners in adopting “climate-smart land management practices.”
A decade ago, Farm Belt opposition helped to defeat the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade proposal for curbing greenhouse gases. Attitudes are becoming more welcoming. A recently formed alliance of farm, environmental and food retailer groups, including AFBF, says climate action in their sector should be built on voluntary action, spurred by tax credits, and market-driven opportunities such as carbon trading. Some environmental groups say voluntary efforts have been insufficient to reduce nutrient runoff from farms or to limit pollution from large livestock operations.
“Of course, there’s been a lot of tension over the last couple of years about the trade war with China and rightfully so,” said Duvall. He highlighted the potential for larger exports, the source of a quarter of farm revenue, through Trump administration agreements with Japan, the “phase one” agreement with China and the “new NAFTA.”
China agreed to import $36.6 billion of U.S. food, agriculture and seafood products in 2020 and $43.5 billion of the goods in 2021. Imports were far short of the goal for the first 11 months of 2020.
“We still have a lot of work to do on our taxes,” said Duvall. The Trump tax cuts increased the estate tax exemption to $11.7 million per person for this year, but it will snap back to half that level in 2025. “We need to make sure that exemption is permanent,” said Duvall. “And we must protect the tax cuts enacted in 2017.”
The AFBF also wants to resolve agricultural labor shortages, expand farm exports, and expand rural access to broadband. Congress has tried without success for the past few years to enact agricultural labor reforms that would recognize undocumented workers.
To read Duvall’s speech, click here.