New bill targets net zero farming in America
Climate change creating ‘immense challenges that threaten our nation’s food production”
Bill seeks to boost funding of on-farm AD to address manure management
The potential of Italian BiogasdonerightTM model to be studied
Al Gore backs the bill
A bill that aims to deliver net zero farming in America by 2040 – and a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – has been placed before the House of Representatives.
Anaerobic digestion and biogas feature prominently, to manage emissions from manures and food waste.
The Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) has been introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Democrat representative for the 1st District of Maine.
The bill aims to build resilience into the system in response to climate change. Farm debt in America is at a record high and farm bankruptcies rose 24% between September 2018 and September 2019. Consequently, farmland is being lost to development.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said, “This comprehensive legislation on climate change and agriculture is extremely timely as farmers are facing a confluence of increasingly extreme weather events and the most depressed farm economy since the 1980s.”
Introducing the bill Congresswoman Pingree, an organic farmer of more than 40 years, said, “Farming has always been a risky business, but unpredictable, extreme weather patterns are creating immense challenges that threaten our nation’s food production and jeopardise the livelihood of American farmers.
“Last year, farmers were unable to plant 19.6 million acres of crops due to record-breaking rainfall. We must be proactive to keep farmers on the land and in business.”
On-farm AD, food waste and biogas
Agriculture accounts for 8.4% of America’s greenhouse gas emissions and last year the EPA stated that emissions related to manure management had risen 66% since 1990.
It said that “the majority of this increase is due to swine and dairy cow manure,” and that “the shift toward larger dairy cattle and swine facilities since 1990 has translated into an increasing use of liquid manure managed systems, which have higher potential methane emissions than dry systems.”
This issue is a major focus of the ARA which seeks to reduce the quantity of waste stored in lagoons and incentivise other forms of manure management, particularly anaerobic digestion. It calls for investments in on-farm energy initiatives to be boosted.
The ARA would increase funding for the Rural Energy for America Program, and direct the US Department for Agriculture (USDA) to study dual-use renewable energy and cropping or livestock systems, along the lines of the celebrated Italian BiogasdonerightTM model.
It also seeks to divert existing programmes to provide technical assistance to farmers interested in reducing methane emissions through anaerobic digestion.
Furthermore, the ARA wants to address the issue of food waste by standardising food date labels to reduce consumer confusion and increase federal support for composting and anaerobic digestion food waste-to-energy projects.
The bill also calls for:
increased funding of R&D, to focus on climate change and associated research into livestock breeds and crops;
farmers to be rewarded for taking action to improve the carbon sequestration of soil, mooting carbon markets and tax incentives as the mechanism;
and increased cover cropping and improved grazing practice, maintaining year-round cover on 75% of cropland and establishing advanced grazing management on 100% of grazing land.
Al Gore backs the bill
Asked about the potential cost of adopting the measures in the ARA, Pingree told Civil Eats website, “We’ve tried our best to keep a lot of the things within USDA’s existing programs, ones that we already know work, and we know how they could be improved with more funding, more staffing, more technical assistance.
“The truth is, as we look into the future of dealing with climate change and climate resilience, we’re going to spend money. Whether it’s changes to the way we build buildings or to our transportation system, there’s going to be an investment made. [It’s not clear yet] whether that will come from a cap and trade system, or something else, or it’ll just be a direct investment where the country says, “We’re in trouble—we gotta do something about it.”
The Bill has won tremendous support from around 50 organisations and the former Vice President Al Gore, who said, “This Act harnesses science and resources to advance regenerative farming practices in order to protect and enhance soil health while removing carbon from the atmosphere. By realising the vision set forth in this bill, American farmers can continue to provide healthy food sustainably, while playing a leading role in solving the climate crisis.”