IFB comments on potential USDA climate-smart commodities program

By Timothy Eggert

To encourage more farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture practices and participate in ecosystem credit markets, USDA should develop and offer voluntary, accessible and affordable strategies.

That’s a sampling of recommendations from Illinois Farm Bureau to USDA, submitted Nov. 1 by President Richard Guebert Jr., on the agency’s potential Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry (CSAF) Partnership Program.

“New markets for climate-smart commodities provide an opportunity and a challenge for U.S. farmers, ranchers and forest landowners,” Guebert. wrote. “Despite the opportunity for new or expanded markets for climate-smart commodities, there are barriers that have prevented these markets from reaching scale.”

The program, which has yet to be implemented, stems from an executive order issued by President Joe Biden earlier this year tasking federal agencies to develop responses to climate change.

As part of its response, USDA this spring floated a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy, and in May released a 90-day progress report detailing recommendations for it.

One element of the CSAF strategy is the CSAF Partnership Program, which would facilitate the expansion of markets for climate-smart commodities, or any agricultural commodity produced using practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon.

Guebert stressed USDA should craft the program to mitigate possible impacts to other commodity markets, local land markets, estate plans and general farm operations.

He explained existing carbon markets do not always provide opportunities for all farmers and landowners due to regional differences, crop types, total acreage in production and other factors. The program, Guebert said, should “fill in those gaps.”

To alleviate financial barriers preventing farmers from participating, Guebert said the program should leverage private investment and provide some kind of cost-sharing to help offset upfront additional costs.

Guebert also noted there are other barriers, like labor availability, education, legal advice, verification costs and lacking quality broadband, that can prevent farmers from participating in markets.

And all those barriers carry a risk that weighs differently across different farms.

“More risk-averse farmers may require more tools and support to participate, while those with the financial footing to be riskier could participate with less concern,” Guebert said. “Every farm and ranch is different, which makes it difficult to estimate how conservation practice adoption will impact the ultimate profit of a farm or ranch.”

A risk-management tool that both protects financial investments made to participate in markets and mitigates other risks could translate into more farmer participation, Guebert said.

Ultimately, Guebert said the program should not be “overly complicated or burdensome,” should remain transparent and should be paired with education and extension.

It should also stay voluntary, keep private any data collected from participating farmers and leave price discovery up to private markets.

And IFB supports USDA efforts to reduce verification uncertainty and costs “so that more of the ecosystem credit dollar goes back to the farmer,” Guebert said.

“Farmers have embraced technologies that reduced emissions and increased efficiency,” Guebert said. “Building upon the strong foundation of voluntary stewardship investments and practices, including those in the farm bill, we look forward to working with the agency to further advance the successful sustainable practices used by Illinois agricultural producers.”

This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.