There’s also been pressure from food companies to change their practices. Big brands like Danone, Smithfield and Nestlé have all pledged drastic reductions to greenhouse gas emissions and can’t meet their goals without help from the farmers who supply them.
But even as they move tentatively toward supporting a carbon bank, many individual farmers remain uncomfortable with alarmist rhetoric about climate change, believing that even acknowledging the human role in global warming would open the door to heavy-handed policies that could jeopardize their livelihoods.
Nonetheless, Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have unapologetically framed their agricultural proposals as climate-change initiatives, part of the president’s “whole-of-government approach” to addressing the climate crisis. Administration officials have been careful to avoid political landmines by emphasizing that any USDA carbon initiative must be “producer-led” and “incentive-based” with “voluntary” participation — language intended to appeal to an extremely regulatory-averse demographic. But that may not be enough to win over most farmers.
“For some people it’s probably not going to be very attractive because [climate change] has been so politicized,” predicted Ernie Shea, a carbon bank supporter who is CEO of Natural Resource Solutions and the former head of the National Association of Conservation Districts, which focuses on preserving natural resources.
Rather than tout the effect of sinking more carbon into the soil, the administration might just as easily stress the way planting restorative crops would improve water quality and achieve other conservation aims that farmers readily accept, said Fred Yoder, an Ohio-based farmer and carbon bank backer.
“It’s short-sighted,” he said of the administration’s branding efforts. “If you just strictly leave it as carbon, you’re leaving it short.”
Vilsack, in an interview earlier this month, indicated that the Agriculture Department will take a cautious approach in designing the program and spend the first 100 days under his leadership collecting input from farmers.