WASHINGTON — Farmers and academics at a Wednesday hearing stressed the need for members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee to support regenerative agriculture farming practices in the upcoming farm bill in order to protect topsoil.
U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott said he held the hearing to discuss ways policymakers and the Department of Agriculture could help farmers incorporate regenerative agriculture practices. That investment in soil health would curb climate change and prevent a food shortage, the Georgia Democrat said.
Regenerative agriculture occurs in farming and grazing practices that focus on rebuilding organic matter in topsoil, restoring degraded soil biodiversity and improving the water cycle. All of these mitigate climate change by growing plants that capture carbon dioxide and move it into the soil.
“Conventional agriculture models are degrading American soil,” Jeff Moyer, the chief executive officer of Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, said. Rodale was a pioneer in organic farming.
About 95% of food is grown from topsoil, which is the most important component to food systems. If soil cannot filter water and adsorb carbon, it will hinder farmers’ ability to grow food to feed people, creating a food crisis. Around the world, soil is eroding 10 to 40 times faster than it can be replaced.
Moyer said that a third of the world’s soil has already degraded and if “the current rate of soil degradation continues, all of the world’s topsoil could be lost within 60 years.”
“The very start of our food supply chain is the Earth, and we are losing the viable component of carbon,” Scott said, adding that it’s important to get carbon back into the soil. Carbon is the primary energy source for plants.
A study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst in February found that “the Midwest has lost approximately 57.6 billion metric tons of topsoil since farmers began tilling the soil, 160 years ago.”
“The historical erosion rates exceed predictions of present-day erosion rates from national soil erosion assessments and levels considered tolerable by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” according to the report.
USDA project funding
The Biden administration has funneled as much as $3 billion to projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon in agriculture. On Wednesday, USDA announced an expansion of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program to fund conservation programs.
Scott said a documentary, titled “Kiss the Ground,” helped open his eyes to the need to invest in regenerative agriculture.
“That is the way that we make sure that we have food security,” he said. Read more