In efforts to modernize the regulatory framework so producers can achieve the goal of increasing U.S. agricultural production 40% while cutting the environmental footprint in half by 2050, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has requested comments for its Agricultural Innovation Agenda (AIA).
Several agricultural groups took the opportunity to offer their own recommendations that reflect their take on how to best accomplish USDA’s efforts to align agency resources, programs and research to provide farmers with what they need to meet the food, fiber, fuel, feed and climate demands of the future.
National Farmers Union (NFU) president Rob Larew submitted comments noting that climate change is the single biggest long-term challenge facing U.S. farmers and ranchers and must be a top priority for USDA’s innovation efforts.
“Changing weather and pest patterns, shifting growing seasons and increasing extreme weather events … [are] undoubtedly putting family farms, rural communities and our food supply at risk,” the comments said. While farmers are committed to mitigating and adapting to climate change, they do not currently have all of the information, tools or financial resources necessary to overcome these immense obstacles. To support them, USDA must both invest in climate research and new technologies as well as make sure the results "are accessible to all farmers and ranchers in these difficult times.”
When conducting and disseminating such research, USDA must prevent politicization and manipulation, which has become increasingly common under this Administration. “Farmers cannot afford for the research and innovation they rely on to be put in question for non-scientific reasons,” Larew said.
Additionally, he urged against “excessive emphasis on coordination between public and private agricultural research endeavors,” as it would deprive “independent family farmers of needed innovation” and erode “viable paths toward transformative discovery.” Instead, USDA “should work with an eye toward long-term research needs” and guarantee that “results of publicly funded research remain in the public domain and that funding sources for private research are fully disclosed.”
Furthermore, he said USDA must not exacerbate the issue of oversupply with its AIA, which includes the goal of “increasing agricultural production by 40% to meet the needs of the global population in 2050.”
For decades, agricultural policy has encouraged overproduction of certain goods, leaving farmers with “stocks of corn, soybeans, dairy and other goods that they cannot sell” and pushing prices well below the cost of production, Larew said. As an alternative, he suggested “economic policies for farmers … that move away from models that encourage farmers to produce a greater and greater volume of commodities.”
Regarding renewable fuels, the agenda calls for increased biofuel feedstock production and biofuel production efficiency and competitiveness to achieve market-driven blend rates of E15 in 2030 and E30 in 2050.
Renewable Fuels Assn. (RFA) president and chief executive officer Geoff Cooper said, “Not only will the AIA initiative’s renewable energy benchmarks, if achieved, stimulate long-term economic growth in rural America; they will also enhance sustainability, improve environmental quality and provide lower costs and greater consumer choice at the pump. The AIA’s renewable energy goals are proactive and ambitious, and the USDA should be applauded for undertaking such a forward-looking initiative that provides clear benefits to American consumers.”
RFA’s response identified the following five opportunities for the industry:
- Increasing productivity in crops and ethanol to meet volume requirements sustainably;
- Stimulating more demand and reducing more emissions from the current Renewable Fuel Standard policy;
- Facilitating greater demand from future policy;
- Continuing USDA infrastructure investments to expand biofuel deployment and sell higher blends, and
- Adopting carbon capture, sequestration and utilization technologies.
In addition, the association identified several roadblocks that need to be addressed by the federal government. This includes providing Reid vapor pressure parity for all ethanol blends, removing or significantly revising E15 fuel survey requirements and labeling requirements, revising EPA’s outdated life-cycle greenhouse gas analysis of corn ethanol and eliminating unnecessary registration and pathway certification barriers to cellulosic ethanol production from corn kernel fiber.
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) submitted its comments in response to USDA’s request for ideas. BIO said the COVID-19 outbreak has only increased the importance of the department’s goals while also creating renewed urgency to protect public health and improve the well-being of people, animals and the environment by developing innovative, sustainable solutions throughout the agricultural value chain.
“The vulnerabilities in our supply chains exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic — which will only be compounded by climate change — emphasize the need to create a more resilient world through science,” BIO executive vice president Dana O’Brien said. “We have an obligation to learn from this crisis and apply those learnings to build a better tomorrow. That means taking steps to invest in science, innovation and the workforce needed to create resilient industries and maintain global economic strength.”
In its comments, BIO stressed the importance of bolstering the bioeconomy to meet USDA’s goals through the development of new platform technologies, enhancements in agriculture and food production and increased production of sustainable fuels, renewable chemicals and bio-based products. BIO centered its recommendations around five key principles:
- Advance modern regulatory approaches to keep pace with innovation.
- Provide robust funding of public- and private-sector scientific research.
- Modernize infrastructure.
- Incentivize farmers.
- Build public support, and increase market access for innovative technologies.