Like many American farmers and ranchers, Clay Pope, Loyal, Oklahoma, has experienced more frequent and severe weather extremes in recent years. But with the support of voluntary, incentive-based government programs, the American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union member and sixth-generation rancher has made his family’s operation more resilient to unpredictable precipitation patterns and wild temperature swings.

He detailed this resiliency and the benefit of voluntary conservation programs during the recent U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry hearing titled "Farmers and Foresters: Opportunities to Lead in Tackling Climate Change.”

During the hearing, four witnesses representing the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance’s founding organizations—American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and National Farmers Union—testified on the agriculture, food and forestry sectors’ role in delivering climate solutions. Pope testified as the representative for National Farmers Union.

In accordance with FACA’s guiding principles, hearing testimony stressed that federal climate policy must be built upon voluntary, incentive-based programs and market-driven opportunities, promote resilience and adaptation in rural communities, and be grounded in scientific evidence. In addition, solutions proposed by Congress and the Biden administration must be strongly bipartisan and accommodate the diverse needs of producers and landowners, regardless of size, geographic region or commodity.

The effects of climate change vary drastically depending on region. For Pope, it has meant “ice storms, changes in rainfall patterns, milder overall winters, record wildfires and, most recently, a historic cold snap that broke all previous records.”

To adapt to these challenges, Pope and his family have shifted to production methods that “minimize soil disturbance, maintain residue cover on the soil, keep something growing on the land as much as possible, and incorporate livestock into the system.”

By building soil health, these practices have not only prepared his farm to bounce back more quickly from flooding, drought, freezes and heat, but it has also cut their input expenditures, increased yields, and reduced soil erosion. “Our investment in soil health has helped us better prepare our farm for climate change in a way that has helped both our productivity and the environment,” Pope told the committee.

These kinds of adjustments often require a significant amount of time, money, and expertise, which is why Pope didn’t make them alone; he received “technical assistance and financial help from an Environmental Quality Incentive Program contract, NRCS, the local conservation district and the Conservation Stewardship Program.”

The expansion of existing programs and the development of new ones could help farmers facing similar difficulties. In order to assist other farmers like him, Pope urged the committee to “build on the UDSA’s voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that allow for produce choice and flexibility.”

On top of expanding these programs, legislators can bolster climate mitigation efforts with market-based solutions like carbon markets and biofuels production. In his testimony, Pope outlined recommendations for how to best implement these mechanisms in a way that “will strengthen producers’ bottom lines and provide major public goods through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner water, and a more stable and abundant food supply.”

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