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Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS)

Lawmakers push for climate action in the 2023 farm bill

Climate change is a divisive topic on Capitol Hill. But, slowly, bipartisan agreement is starting to emerge when it comes to one key piece of legislation — the farm bill.

The farm policy package is due for reauthorization in December, just as two recent reports highlight the damaging impact climate change is having on agriculture and threats to the global food supply. The timeline is looking tight though, with few legislative days left this year. Top lawmakers have already conceded they’ll need an extension into next year as negotiations continue.

“I just want to remind everyone that farmers and ranchers were the original environmentalists,” Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said when asked if he’s pushing for climate provisions in the bill.

Marshall said conservation programs in the past farm bills have been “very successful,” and he wants to ensure Congress continues to provide money for them.

The massive farm bill — last passed in 2018 — has implications for a range of issues, including childhood nutrition, food stability, farm insurance for damage and loss from extreme weather events and more.

We’re following efforts to address climate change in the farm bill as part of our platform, The Punch Up, which examines the equity divide in the United States and efforts to bridge it.

At the frontlines of climate change: Emissions from agriculture are responsible for about 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers this year have already suffered record-breaking heat, droughts and unexpectedly voracious flooding. And the United States is experiencing a critical shortage of products like corn, wheat, beef and poultry partly because of such climate disasters.

In recent months, lawmakers have convened listening sessions both in Washington and across the country as they prepare to draft the farm bill. But climate policy is often a third rail.

Still, recent moves by the agricultural community to acknowledge climate impacts and take action may make it an easier issue for Republican lawmakers to address the issue without significant political blowback.

Areas of agreement: Precision agriculture and regenerative farming are some areas of bipartisan support in the farm package. Regenerative farming— a practice indigenous communities have used for millennia — emphasizes growing crops and raising livestock in a way that nurtures the environment.

Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told us farmers can play a big role in achieving the country’s climate goals.

“They’ve got to be our partners, and we’ve got to make it affordable for them to make the transition to practices that are going to maintain their farms and their ability to produce food and reduce carbon emissions,” Welch said.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said she’s focused on several issues, including precision agriculture, crop insurance and disaster payments.

And lawmakers in both parties told us they recognize that smaller, independent farmers and poorer agricultural communities bear the bigger brunt of climate change. They have a tougher time affording the high adaptation costs and shifting to more sustainable practices. The farm bill can help if it includes the right provisions.

“It’s important for all of us, but there’s no question that people on the margins are disproportionately affected,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), another member of the Ag panel.

— Elvina Nawaguna

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.