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Vilsack sees farmers keeping climate on congressional agenda

House Republicans look to other issues with major farm programs bill expected in 2023

A tractor kicks up dust in a field near Parker, Ariz., on Aug. 24, 2021.
A tractor kicks up dust in a field near Parker, Ariz., on Aug. 24, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Farmers’ interest will keep climate on the congressional agenda regardless of whether Republicans, who have said the issue is not a priority, win control of the House, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.

In a call from Egypt, Vilsack said U.S. commodity and farm organizations are attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, to see what role agriculture can play in reducing world greenhouse gas emissions. The conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, began Nov. 6 and will end Friday. 

“What I have been most impressed with in all of this conversation about climate is the degree to which American farmers, ranchers and producers have been supportive. I would anticipate and expect that climate will continue to be a focus not because I want it or not because  any member of the House or Senate wants it, but most importantly because farmers, ranchers and producers recognize and appreciate the importance of it,” Vilsack said. 

Glenn “GT” Thompson, House Agriculture ranking member and the likely chairman if final midterm results give Republicans the majority, said in September that a GOP farm bill would focus less on the Biden administration’s climate priorities and more on retooling conservation programs to be innovative and economically useful to farmers.

But Vilsack said farmers’ interest in Agriculture Department initiatives such as multiyear grants from the Commodity Credit Corporation for climate-smart projects and the department’s plans for using $20 billion included in the August reconciliation package for major environmental programs is high.

During the call, Vilsack also said the $2.8 billion for climate-smart projects has been increased to $3.1 billion, with new projects to be announced in December. The additional money will fund 65 new projects intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

He said side events on agriculture at COP27 reflect a heightened world interest in making food production more resilient in light of reports that a shifting climate could make raising crops and livestock more difficult because of drought, floods, increased heat and erratic weather. The side events also looked at ways agriculture can reduce emissions such as methane from livestock.

Egypt is so interested in the potential climate effects on food production that it held an agriculture and adaptation day, Vilsack said. 

During the conference, Vilsack and John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, announced a U.S. commitment of $20 million for the Agriculture Department to work with governments and local organizations worldwide to advance fertilizer efficiency and nutrient management. Brazil, Colombia, Pakistan and Vietnam will be the first round of participants.

The U.S. also will provide $5 million for the Efficient Fertilizer Consortium that the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research will establish in partnership with Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate to do applied research on efficient fertilizer products and practices in collaboration with the private sector. Formed in 2021, AIM for Climate is a joint initiative of the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

Vilsack also announced during COP27 that AIM for Climate will hold a conference in Washington on May 8-10, 2023. The coalition has grown to 42 member countries and 235 partners that include nonprofits and corporations.

“There’s an opportunity for us to talk about things like artificial intelligence, machine learning and what that is going to do in terms of providing additional opportunities. There’s also going to be a call to action focused on the venture capital community,” Vilsack said.

He said investors need to pick up the pace of funding startup technology companies focused on climate and agriculture.

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research is co-sponsoring the event with the Agriculture Department. The foundation’s executive director, Saharah Moon Chapotin, said the conference will provide a “critical opportunity” to focus on research and funding.

“The scope and scale of climate change requires not only ambition, but also demands unprecedented global collaboration,” Chapotin said in a statement.

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