A new report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the warming planet is causing the world’s deserts to expand and the land to degrade, putting parts of the world at risk of food and water shortages. Further, the way people use land is worsening the problem, and “already making food more expensive, scarcer and less nutritious.”

According to the report, land degradation is decreasing the stability of the food supply as extreme weather events (drought, fire, flooding, pests, disease) disrupt food chains. It notes, however, that the way we grow food could help save the planet from a hungrier future. In particular, better farming practices, such as no-till agriculture and targeted fertilizer applications, would reduce carbon pollution.

Reading that reminded me of remarks shared by several Idaho farmers who participated in a recent Idaho-Eastern Washington regional conference, “Bridging the Climate Divide”. At the event, sponsored by Citizens’ Climate Lobby and hosted by the University of Idaho, farmers from the Palouse region described the increasingly difficult challenges of staying in business under changing climate conditions.

Speaking as part of a panel on keeping agriculture sustainable and profitable, these farmers discussed how they’re responding to topsoil loss, irregular rainfall, and hotter, drier summers. On the rolling Palouse terrain, holding onto topsoil is especially difficult, and farms rely solely on rainfall for irrigation.

The good news? These farmers are adapting. They know that building organic matter in the soil sequesters carbon, and that no-till methods increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. They’re trying regenerative methods, such as direct seeding to retain topsoil. They’re also planting cover crops to improve soil health, planting trees on steep slopes, and adding plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects to reduce the need for pesticides.

It is great to know that these Idaho farmers are ahead of the curve, acutely aware of and proactively responding to land use issues. How can the rest of us contribute to a healthier Earth? One farmer suggested impact investing to incentivize agricultural stewardship and productivity: consumers can support more sustainable practices rather than subsidizing those that degrade the soil by moving their money into competitive green funds.

Another way to help this effort is by encouraging passage of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019, H.R. 763. The legislation, endorsed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, would place a predictably rising fee on carbon pollution and return all revenue to households equally. This market-based approach will help farmers by boosting private investment in renewable and energy efficiency innovations, advancing new concepts in increasing soil fertility and resilience to floods and drought.

Let’s help our farmers keep the food supply safe and sustainable. Ask Representatives Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher to support this important bipartisan legislation now, and urge Senators Michael Crapo and Jim Risch to support it when it is reintroduced in the Senate.

Linda Rytterager is a member of the Boise Chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-profit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change.

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