Letters to the Editor

American Farmers Are Leaning Into a Clean Energy Future: Here's How We Can Help

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To the Editor:

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took the stage (https://www.usda.gov/…) at the recent Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) and made the administration's stance clear: Climate change is happening and it will disrupt our food systems and the livelihood of our agricultural producers.

It's undeniable that climate change will impact our country's farmers, but the more pressing question is, how can we help them leverage the tools necessary to fight back?

Unlike in previous years, most American farmers today are ready and willing to embrace their role in implementing natural climate change solutions. According to a recent poll (https://news.stlpublicradio.org/…) from Farm and Rural Life, approximately 80% of American farmers believe climate change is occurring, and more than half of respondents were concerned about the climate's impact on their operations.

Some programs already exist to help farmers manage the financial and operational barriers to implementing these climate change solutions. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency has a wide variety of conservation programs, such as the Emergency Conservation Program (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/…), which provides funding to farmers and ranchers for emergency water conservation measures caused by severe droughts.

Moreover, the current administration has recognized that accelerating the adoption of natural climate solutions is urgently needed. In fact, President Biden recently launched the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (https://www.aimforclimate.org/…), which aims to invest $1 billion in "climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation over five years."

This is a clear sign that the administration is not only aware of how climate change is impacting the agricultural industry, but they're also willing to push for investments in innovation and science-based solutions to help the American farmer. And although these programs are certainly beneficial, the rising costs of competitive technologies in this industry is creating the need for even more financial incentives for our agricultural workers.

In turn, the U.S. government should strongly consider enhancing existing programs that enable carbon solutions for our country's agricultural sector. Notably, the agriculture industry

contributed roughly $1.1 trillion (https://www.ers.usda.gov/…) to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2019 alone, so taking a hard look at these programs and seeing how they can be improved would be a worthy investment -- not just for the industry, but for the American economy as a whole.

Other policy proposals -- such as a potential reduction of capital gains tax on investments made for clean energy and building resilience to climate change -- should also be explored. These proposals would effectively work to enhance, and not disrupt, the valuable work that American agricultural workers are doing today.

However, without any current legislation to address the financial lift it will take for farmers to invest in newer, clean-energy practices, businesses can look toward existing incentives for immediate resources.

For instance, there are several tax credits available to American agricultural businesses that can open the door to immediate capital. These funds can, in turn, be used to invest in more advanced farming practices with an eye toward mitigating the impact of climate change.

The Research and Development Tax Credit is one business incentive created by Congress to encourage American business investments in innovation to remain competitive. For years, agricultural companies across the country have been taking advantage of the tax credit, which can be used by farmers to invest in new technologies that push their business into a clean-energy future.

Agriculture businesses can qualify for the credit in a variety of ways. Just a few examples of qualifying activities include:

-- The hybridization or development of new strains of crops, plants, or livestock

-- Improvements in harvesting equipment, techniques, or cycle times

-- The evaluation and implementation of new techniques to increase yields

Another credit, the Employee Retention Credit, although temporary, helps American businesses weather the storm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and offers another option for agriculture businesses to access capital necessary to reinvest in themselves.

Regardless of the type of incentive offered, it's imperative that the U.S. government continue to support this critical industry as it becomes clearer that new technology and innovation will be required to combat climate change. For example, one recent study (https://www.scientificamerican.com/…) published in Environmental Research Letters at Stanford University found that climate-fueled temperature spikes created approximately $27 billion in insurance payments to farmers from 1991 to 2017.

It's inevitable that the American farmer will need to work toward practices that avoid greenhouse gases and enhance carbon storage. Although education and partnerships can facilitate invaluable good, we must work to create even better incentives to cover the costs of necessary innovations and keep our agriculture industry strong.

It's up to us to decide how we can help the industry move into that innovative tomorrow.

Heidi Heitkamp

Director of Agriculture for alliantgroup and Former U.S. Senator representing North Dakota from 2013 to 2019


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