Stewardship of Creation: The Other Half of Agriculture

By Catholic Rural Life on August 22, 2013

Stewardship of Creation

Several of our blog postings over the summer have been about legislative authorization for a new Farm Bill. Rightly so: Congress needs to pass a new Farm Bill — one with adequate funding and reforms — before the end of September. But before departing Capitol Hill for their August recess, our elected representatives came to an impasse because of, well, funding and reforms.

What are the right levels of funding? What are the right kinds of reforms? Catholic Rural Life has been clear in our advocacy efforts about that; just see some of our previous blogs (archive at right) and our Farm Bill web section.
This week’s posting is switching away from our usual focus on farm and food programs and taking a look at the other half of agriculture: the care and stewardship of the land. Thinking beyond five-year farm programs, we need to set policies so that farming can continue indefinitely – and food keeps coming not only for us, but future generations.
Supporting a strong Conservation Title
The Farm Bill considers this to some extent in its Conservation title, and many in the NCRLC network know about our strong advocacy in respect to conservation practices for farms and ranches. But I would like to broaden this beyond essential soil and water conservation programs. We must now deal with the increasing impacts of climate change upon our prime agricultural regions.
As a society, we already put pressure on our farmlands to produce ever-increasing amounts of food, fuel and fiber; this will only intensify. But it seems we still need to convince policy makers that climate change adds a new threat. True, there is a great deal of uncertainty of who will receive too much rain, or too little, at the right or wrong times of the growing and harvest seasons. It is clear, however, that erratic changes in temperature and rainfall can result in the spread of plant damaging insects, weeds and diseases. That is on top of increasing the severity of soil erosion, runoff and flooding.
American Farmland Trust (AFT) assures us that agriculture has much to lose from the effects of global warming. Fortunately, agricultural leaders and producers also has much to gain from being part of the solution to fighting it.
According to AFT, research studies indicate that changes in agriculture practices, paired with the foresting of marginal agricultural lands, could offset up to one fifth of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
However agricultural sequestration currently offsets less than one percent of total U.S. emissions. In the absence of a national carbon program coupled with policies that encourage and reward agricultural participants, we are missing a significant opportunity to reduce the effects of climate change through agriculture.
Farmers and ranchers are the stewards of over half the land and water resources in our country. Good stewardship on private land benefits the producer and the public good, such as clean water, healthy soils and flourishing wildlife. That many of the practices undertaken also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it only makes sense to include policies and incentives in the Farm Bill.
Waving the Banner for Stewardship
Exactly what these policies or practices are – indeed, what the solutions to global warming are – I cannot pretend to say. I merely want to add my voice – and hopefully yours – in making sure the agricultural leaders and sustainable farm organizations are fully engaged in developing the range of solutions to face climate change.
Second to this, we need to call on academics to drag themselves away from research that simply promotes industrial or “Big Ag” production and begins to examine more thoroughly sustainable practices at the local and regional levels.
And because we cannot pretend that government policies in themselves will resolve all our problems, we need to push for a complement of market mechanisms that will cause effective change in farm fields and reward farmers for their good stewardship.
So let’s keep waving the banner for sustainable agriculture and stewardship of Creation!
Breaking News: The National Journal recently reported that the House Energy and Commerce committee will hold a major hearing on climate change on Sept. 18. Leaders of federal agencies are invited to testify, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. House Republican leadership has avoided this issue for years; this may be their response to President Obama’s unveiling of his climate action plan earlier this summer.

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