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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Climate Change and Agriculture

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled “Climate Change and the Agriculture Sector.”

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:


Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding today's very important hearing on climate change and the solutions that can come from agriculture. I believe there is no greater challenge that will affect the future of our planet, our agricultural economy, and our ability to feed a growing population. 

My goal today is not to debate the science of climate change. The science is sound. Sound science has helped our farmers grow the safest, most productive food supply in the world. That same sound science is telling us that climate change from carbon pollution is an urgent challenge. And that same science is giving us the tools to confront it.

No one understands the stakes and the potential solutions better than our farmers and ranchers. Right now in Michigan, we have seen bomb cyclones, flooding, tornadoes and other weather extremes. Unusually cold and rainy weather has kept farmers from getting into their fields – likely lowering yields as we move past the ideal planting window.

Across the country, we’ve seen a growing and alarming number of extreme natural disasters wreaking havoc in communities and on farms. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, climate change could result in crop losses costing up to $53 billion annually for our children and grandchildren.

While our agricultural industry is uniquely affected by climate change, our farmers and food businesses are also uniquely positioned to address the root causes. With the right support, our producers can cut down on their emissions and profit from the adoption of practices to store more carbon in soil and trees. These solutions are good for the environment and good for a farmer’s bottom line.

The good news is that many farmers and ranchers are already rising to this challenge, all while continuing to meet the growing global demand for food. The other good news is that our 2018 Farm Bill provides funding support for many of the solutions that are needed.

Producers like the Corn Growers are partnering with conservation groups to establish innovative organizations like the Soil Health Partnership, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, and many others. Food companies are forming sustainability alliances and taking additional actions to reduce their carbon footprint.

For decades, farmers have been adopting voluntary, climate-smart conservation practices like cover cropping, no-till farming, and adding more trees as windbreaks and buffers. Currently, there are 140 million acres of farmland using USDA conservation programs. Since 2012, we’ve seen the number of farms installing renewable energy systems like solar panels and aerobic digesters double – all of them cutting their energy consumption, their costs, and their emissions.

And now, through landmark investments, producers have had more opportunities to grow the next generation of biofuels, and make money in voluntary carbon markets – from grassland conservation in North Dakota to sustainable rice cultivation in Arkansas. With many farmers and ranchers already implementing these practices — our challenge going forward is how to scale up and support these efforts.

The 2018 Farm Bill is the starting point, which enacted the most ambitious — and bipartisan —climate-smart agriculture policies to date with the support of 87 Senators. Changes to crop insurance, working lands conservation programs, and forest health initiatives are helping producers sequester carbon and improve sustainability.

Looking forward, we need to expand the good work that is already happening — all while providing farmers with economic opportunities so they can continue to grow the food that feeds the world. No farmer wants the government telling them how to farm their land. That’s not what this is about. We should be strengthening the ways that farmers can benefit from building on the positive steps they are already taking.

In the past, we have risen to face challenges of this magnitude. During the 1930’s, our farmers experienced an unprecedented catastrophe during the Dust Bowl. Dust storms buried homes and darkened cities. Crops and livestock were decimated. Children died of pneumonia.

Thankfully, our nation’s response matched the challenge. We created thousands of locally-led conservation districts, established the Soil Conservation Service at the USDA, and planted over 3.5 billion trees on barren land. 

While the problem at hand might be different, the urgency is the same.  Proposals to confront this problem must be bipartisan and must meet two goals:

They must increase global agricultural production to feed the billions of people who need food. And they must support modern farming, ranching, and forestry practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep more carbon in our soils and trees.

I believe this Committee has a strong bipartisan framework to accomplish these goals. I’m anxious to move forward.