New paper highlights the troubles with one-size-fits-all ag solutions


Until the U.S., and the European Union, embrace the distinctive differences between each food producer, we will continue to struggle to meet the challenges of climate change and feeding the world.

The Green New Deal, or the Inflation Reduction Act as it’s been rebranded, call for the installation of green or buffer zones on farms to act as wildland spaces for wild plants and animals. Legacy farms and ranches often already have those things in place. For example, our family farm has about 50 acres of contiguous land that is entirely native plants and provides habitat for birds, deer, coyotes, and the occasional wayward moose. It also acts as a buffer for irrigation water to settle and for bugs to propagate. We do not apply pesticides, but we do occasionally graze it for weed control.

In years past, we have tried to apply for “credit” for having the space set aside but have been informed we would have to entirely remove and replace it to make it eligible for stewardship credits despite the area having been in place for more than 50 years. The backwardness of government means families who have set aside land for stewardship are effectively punished for it rather than rewarded for being forward thinking in their approach to land management. While not all farms operate with this principle in mind, many have buffers built in intentionally or otherwise. Those forms of stewardship are just as important as mandated measures, arguably more so because they fit the unique environment they are in rather than being prescriptive in nature.

A new paper from the Buckeye Institute suggests America’s agricultural community may be headed in a dire direction by buying into the need for the mandated measures of the Inflation Reduction Act. The analysis compares European and American agricultural policy after both countries signed the Paris Climate Accords. The agreement calls for signatories to cut emissions to 50 percent of 1990 emissions levels by 2030.

In recent years, members of the European agricultural community have protested against extremely restrictive climate policies. Farmers in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, and elsewhere began protesting climate regulations tied to the Paris Climate emissions targets more than two years ago. The protests have continued to escalate with farmers blocking a border crossing between Germany and Poland this week and throwing bottles and eggs at EU ministers in Brussels.

When the United States rejoined the Paris Accords, it committed to cutting total greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030 and reach economy wide net-zero emissions by 2050. But the targets are particularly aggressive when examining the adaptations necessary in agriculture to achieve them. The agricultural community would have to have a widespread paradigm shift in fuels, tillage practices, crop choices, and rotation use.

Here’s the rub: The Green New Deal/Inflation Reduction Act, doesn’t work for every farm in America. Switching from fossil fuels to electric equipment is extremely expensive and damages soil, if the equipment can be located. Low- and no-till practices don’t work for every farm. Not all farms can employ cover crops as part of their rotation. Silviculture, permaculture, and other forms of “rest” agriculture meant to help soil recover aren’t always economically practical.

Wide adoption of electric-powered agricultural equipment has been slow to occur because of three glaring issues: cost, availability, and soil damage. Until electric-powered equipment becomes more affordable for the horsepower, it will likely not be popular. When the time comes to purchase equipment, farmers and ranchers want experience with the item they intend to buy. Purchases of new equipment that a farmer has never used before are less likely to occur if the equipment is not available for an in-person test run.

Finally, because of the weight of the batteries, electric equipment is challenging to use in soft, muddy, or otherwise compromised soil, making it significantly less attractive to farmers and ranchers.

Soil management through various forms of low- or no-till or cover crops are also less attractive to some agricultural producers based on where and what they farm. Some data suggests that low- or no-till practices have a negative effect on corn and soybean yields, making it less attractive in several parts of the U.S. In regions that produce deep rooting or tuber crops with annual rotations, use of low- or no-till is not ideal for pest control.

Farms and ranches are often generational, with families passing down knowledge of the land, natural resources, wild plants and animals, and livestock from one generation to the next. Generational knowledge often includes information not found in documents and can relate to everything from common irrigation practices to practical knowledge about when to till or what crops work best based on the microclimate. Rather than forcing families to use a “climate smart” approach to crop cultivation imposed by politicians and government, local, state, and federal agencies would do well to recognize families who have shown resiliency in their existing practices. Legacy farms are examples of generational practices that have kept the land, natural resources, wild plants and animals, and livestock working in concert, otherwise the farm would not still be in existence.

In all these cases, a one-size-fits all approach to “climate smart” methodologies do not provide the best approach for tackling climate change or agricultural practices. Every farm in the U.S. is unique. Two farms with identical soil profiles, identical access to irrigation, even identical crop rotations, could have different levels of success based only on weather. The unique qualities of every farm should be acknowledged, and every potential solution tailored based upon those individual aspects.

Even before climate regulations have become strict, farms are struggling across the country. Last week’s U.S. Census of Agriculture release showing fewer farms and less farmland nationwide, was called a “wake up call” by USDA Director Tom Vilsack. The United States lost an average of 545 farms a week between 2017 and 2022. In that same time frame, more than 77,000 acres of U.S. farmland a week was taken out of production.

Until the U.S., and the European Union, embrace the distinctive differences between each food producer, we will continue to struggle to meet the challenges of climate change and feeding the world.

Pam Lewison is a fourth-generation farmer in Eastern Washington, the Ag Research Director for the Washington Policy Center, and a contributor to Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top