America’s prairies are under attack — we need them in the fight against climate change

The United States has ambitious plans to Zero economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 To avoid the worst impacts of climate change. An important part of this effort is Landscapes and seascapes to absorb emissions. Paradoxically, two federal programs—one aimed at reducing farmers’ risk through insurance subsidies and another aimed at expanding biofuel use—would not Instead, it promotes grassland conversion, endangering one of nature’s most powerful allies in the fight against climate change.

Rather than reforming the program, the federal government may decide in the coming weeks: Increase volume based on biofuel programswhich would further encourage land diversion.

Nearly 1.8 million acres of grassland in 2020 alone Destroyed Greenhouse gas emissions are rising on the Great Plains, damaging wildlife habitat and threatening the foundations of vibrant ranching sectors and rural communities. A study of 12 Midwestern states found that between 2008 and 2016, he converted more than 7,700 square miles of grassland to farmland. triggered Significant soil degradation and carbon loss.

Heavily subsidized federal crop insurance By compensating farmers for lower yields and lower prices, farmers’ costs and risks are significantly reduced, encouraging them to shift production to the next sector. frontier land It was once considered too risky to grow more crops in agriculture, including drought-prone areas like grasslands. A growing body of evidence, including specific studies on the Northern Great Plains, points to subsidized crop insurance. encourage land conversion.

Federal Biofuel ProgramThe encroachment on natural land is also accelerating due to the need to mix certain amounts of biofuels with transportation fuels. The biofuel market is pushing farmers to convert pristine grasslands to rows of corn and soybeans to meet programmatic demand. Currently, biofuel production is roughly exhausted. 45 percent of corn and 30% soybean oil Produced in the USA

This is happening even though producers must: Required to grow energy crops on existing farmland By law, natural land cannot be converted to grow biofuel crops and cannot be certified as renewable under the program.

In practice, the federal government has failed to enforce this safeguard.

The problem is that governments are tracking changes in land use ONLY AT NATIONAL LEVEL. In other words, as long as the total amount of land used for agriculture remains at or below the 2007 baseline, the government assumes that natural land is not converted to biofuel.This Flawed Surveillance System Fails to Capture Millions of Acres of Farmland, Masking Conversion lost to Urban and suburban development will be replaced by an equal amount of natural land converted to arable land.

This oversight paved the way for millions of acres of grassland to be cleared for renewable fuels covered by the program. A 2017 study found that recent grassland conversion was concentrated around ethanol refineries, direct connection between the two. In 2018, the agency that administers the program reported to Congress that biofuel production was taking place. responsible Expanded farmland by up to 7.8 million acres, roughly the size of Maryland.

Both the federal crop insurance program and the biofuels program need urgent reform.

Governments should reject crop insurance subsidies for all crops grown on land converted from pristine grasslands, and instead offer further incentives. regenerative farming practices Provides environmental benefits to sustainable grazing on existing farmlands and grasslands.

The United States also needs to revise its current conversion monitoring approach under its biofuels program. A rigorous monitoring system should be implemented with tracking options such as produce receipts and satellite and aerial imagery.

Finally, renewable fuel volume requirements should be revised downwards rather than upwards to reduce the pressure on farmers to grow energy crops.

To be clear, crop insurance subsidies are very important because they provide an important safety net for American farmers. Safety nets should enable farmers to responsibly manage risks and maintain income while protecting grasslands. Similarly, renewable fuels must meet criteria to reduce emissions compared to fossil fuels while avoiding harm to the environment.

The government will modify these efforts to prevent the production of some commodities from driving conversion on the American prairies, helping restore biodiversity and thus making existing farmlands more productive. be able to. In doing so, the United States will help American farmers survive and advance climate change goals.

Melissa D. Ho is Senior Vice President, Freshwater and Food, World Wide Fund for Nature in Washington, DC.

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