A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: With support, Kentucky’s farmers can deliver climate solutions

By Mark Reynolds and Vasudha Deshpande
Citizens’ Climate Lobby

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.

Vasudha Deshpande

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 Kentucky. 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 and foresters to engage in sustainable practices by helping them to access lucrative carbon credit markets. Basically, it will be easier for farmers to get paid for emissions they reduce and carbon they sequester. The bill gives farmers technical assistance to develop practices that are eligible for carbon credits, measure the value of those credits, and certify them for trading on the market. This is good news for farmers and for the planet, since agriculture and forestry contribute an estimated 10.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the USDA.

Mark Reynolds

Here in Kentucky climate change is already affecting our farmers. “Global warming is expected to increasingly affect Kentucky’s agriculture in the next 20 to 30 years” states the University of Kentucky Department of Agriculture. For our area, rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity and effect water supplies. The number of FEMA emergency events due to severe weather and flooding has more than doubled in the past 20 years compared to the previous 40 years. Kentucky’s new cash crop, industrial hemp, can be grown on a wide variety of soil types. Poorly drained soils, however, are not recommended as excess surface water after heavy rains can result in damage to the hemp crop. Hemp is extremely sensitive to flooding and soil compaction. The Growing Climate Solutions Act would help farmers combat these concerning trends and reap a financial benefit while they do so.

Republican senators Mike Braun, co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, and Lindsey Graham, along with Democratic senators Debbie Stabenow and Sheldon Whitehouse, introduced the bill in the Senate. In July, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on this legislation. Sen. Stabenow, the ranking member on the committee 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.

Mark Reynolds is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Vasudha Deshpande is a volunteer with the Northern KY chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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