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  • Rema Boscov

Future is the keyword for this book...

Farming For Our Future: The Science, Law, and Policy of Climate-Neutral Agriculture, authors: Peter H. Lehner and Nathan A. Rosenberg

Reviewed by Rema Boscov, TNF Summer 2022

Future is the keyword for this book, which is 242 pages packed with details and recommendations, research, facts, graphs and charts explaining agriculture’s current contribution to global warming and its enormous opportunity to adopt practices that mitigate our climate crisis.

Peter H. Lehner and Nathan A. Rosenberg, lawyers specializing in agricultural law and policy, offer a blueprint for dozens of changes that agriculture can make to curtail fossil fuel emissions, sequester carbon, reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions, and much more. The book's recommendations range from farm practices and food processing to consumption and waste to EPA regulations and fertilizer production. It offers discussions about on-farm and off-farm problems often overlooked, and suggestions for policies that, if implemented, could greatly reduce global warming. The authors explain the science clearly, offer a lot of examples as well as policy and legal recommendations.

A significant point of enjoyment with the book is that Lehner and Rosenberg don’t dwell on climate despair; they offer hope. Using graphs and research data, they show that changes in our agricultural practices could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon, despite the potential for carbon loss due to fires, floods and microbial deaths. They suggest several ways to transform farm policy toward climate-neutral agriculture. Among those suggestions are increasing funding for climate-related agricultural research, outreach, education and technical assistance. They believe that the USDA should use its rulemaking authority to require farmers receiving commodity payments to adopt cost-effective climate-friendly practices, such as cover cropping, and that Congress or the USDA should eliminate or reduce payments to CAFOs.

There’s a lot in Farming For Our Future to learn and think about. For instance, Lehner and Rosenberg explain the carbon sequestration advantages to perennial agriculture of all types, fruit- or nut-bearing trees, grains, forages and vegetables, and then address the current policy disadvantages faced by farmers of perennial crops, which includes a lack of research and funding opportunities. “Agricultural research even within public universities,” they write, “ is increasingly focused on the priorities of private-sector corporations, which sell inputs that are used less intensively—or not at all—in perennial systems. Federal funding for agricultural research is also generally focused on short-term projects.”

Concerning funding: “More than a third of net farm income in 2019 came from government payments and programs, yet farms using perennial practices receive almost no public support. Congress should address this in part through a new federally administered crop insurance program for agroforestry and other perennial operations.” Details, history, and many suggestions follow, such as a recommendation for additional training for extension agents to learn the specifics of perennial crop production in order to serve the growing numbers of farmers embracing it.

The book includes mention of actions in rural communities such as Black farmers who have led campaigns against concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and Native Americans whose lands were stolen but who have retained “sustainable and traditional practices to produce food and connect with their culture.”

In a chapter titled “Off Farm Food System Emission Reduction Opportunities,” we learn the startling fact that nitrogen-based fertilizers “accounted for 59% of total U.S. fertilizer consumption in 2010, but were responsible for approximately 90% of emissions from fertilizer production.” And the numbers continue to astonish. But, that does mean there is room for improvement. “These emissions are additional to emissions resulting from the application of fertilizer on croplands, meaning that the climate benefits of reducing fertilizer use, if accompanied by a commensurate reduction in fertilizer production, are significantly greater than indicated by emissions alone and that significant climate benefits may be achieved by tailoring the types of fertilizer manufactured.”

Farming For Our Future details the regenerative practices we need to shift to as farmers if we are to successfully combat climate change. And it takes the next step, recommending policies and legal reforms we should put in place to make carbon farming this country’s main form of agriculture. As lawyers, Lehner and Rosenberg are in excellent positions to promote those policies. As citizens, we are in positions to become informed and seek ways to implement them. “Policymakers and others should rise up to this challenge,” they conclude. “Our future depends on it.”

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