Farmers have played a significant role in the climate crisis. From raising livestock to fertilizer applications to tilling fields, sources of greenhouse gas emissions abound in the agriculture sector. Despite their contributions to climate change, farmers are also uniquely vulnerable to its impact. Whether its catastrophic flooding, endless droughts, American farmers are already facing the consequences of global warming. In 2019, farmers saw the wettest 12 months on record, resulting in 19.4 million unplantable acres. Without widespread action, these issues will only worsen. In order to move U.S. agriculture towards net zero, Congress should immediately pass legislation that improves emissions reporting, accounts for diverse sources of emissions, and mandates aggressive emission cuts.
Congress should begin by ending emissions reporting exemptions for agriculture. The agricultural industry has consistently received exemptions from emissions reporting requirements. In 2008, President Bush passed a midnight rule granting farmers an exemption from reporting animal waste air emissions required by Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act . Bush’s EPA claimed that “the reports are unnecessary because, in most cases, a federal response is impractical and unlikely”. The final rule was eventually struck down by the United States Court of Appeals in 2017, but was quickly replaced by the FARM Act in 2018, which also allowed air emissions from animal waste to be exempted from reporting requirements. These exemptions must be overturned. Without a clear baseline and consistent reporting, it is impossible to be sure that climate mitigation efforts are working.
Another priority area for Congress should be fixing accounting discrepancies in the EPA’s annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. According to the EPA’s inventory, agriculture is responsible for 9.3% of the greenhouse gases produced in the United States. Most of the emissions come from soil management practices like fertilizer applications and digestion from ruminant animals. Many experts suspect, however, that current measuring systems underestimate agriculture’s contributions to global warming. They charge that greenhouse gas inventories conducted by the EPA often overlook emissions from soil disturbance, land conversion, and fertilizer production. These concerns appear justified when weighted against global estimates of agriculture emissions done by the organizations like CGIAR, which place agriculture as responsible for 19% to 29% of total emissions. To improve estimations, Congress could introduce new legislation requiring EPA to expand the scope of their calculations to include diverse sources of agricultural emissions.
Despite persistent reporting and accounting issues, momentum has been gaining at the federal level to finally tackle agricultural emissions. In February 2020, Secretary of Agriculture announced ambitious new objectives for USDA. The agency’s 2020 Agriculture Innovation Agenda set a goal to double production while also reducing greenhouse gases by 50% by 2050. Recent marker bills have also shown recent willingness to adopt climate friendly practices. In the same month, Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine introduced the Agriculture Resilience Act to the House of Representatives. The Act accelerates the timeline for emissions reductions, with the goal reducing greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030 and going net zero by 2040. The Bill’s priorities also include increasing investment in sustainable agriculture research, promoting soil health, farmland conservation, and on-farm energy innovation. It proposes targeting emissions reductions by creating agriculture carbon credits, reducing food waste, and raising pastured livestock.
In order to facilitate the changes outlined in the Agriculture Innovation Agenda and Representative Pingree’s bill, the emissions reporting exemptions must end and full accounting of emissions associated with the entire agriculture supply chain should become the new standard for greenhouse gas inventories. Bills like the Agriculture Resilience Act should form the foundation for emissions reductions and be expanded upon in the next Farm Bill. With the right policies and support, America’s farmers can pivot from part of the problem to an integral component of the climate solution.
 Irfan, Umair. “2019 Was a Brutal Year for American Farmers.” Vox, December 27, 2019. https://www.vox.com/2019/12/27/21038054/american-farmer-2019-climate-change-agriculture-flood-trade-war-corn-soy.
 Federal Register. “CERCLA/EPCRA Administrative Reporting Exemption for Air Releases of Hazardous Substances From Animal Waste at Farms,” December 18, 2008. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2008/12/18/E8-30003/cerclaepcra-administrative-reporting-exemption-for-air-releases-of-hazardous-substances-from-animal.
 US EPA, OLEM. “CERCLA and EPCRA Reporting Requirements for Air Releases of Hazardous Substances from Animal Waste at Farms.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA, September 5, 2017. https://www.epa.gov/epcra/cercla-and-epcra-reporting-requirements-air-releases-hazardous-substances-animal-waste-farms.
 US EPA, DRAFT Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2018
 See “DRAFT Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2018”
 “Why Agriculture’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Almost Always Underestimated.” Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2019/12/02/5-reasons-agricultures-greenhouse-gas-emissions-are-usually-underestimated/#30c84c1a6ac8.
 Croft, Genevieve K. “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks in U.S. Agriculture,” n.d., 3.
 “Direct Agricultural Emissions – Big Facts.” Accessed March 26, 2020. https://ccafs.cgiar.org/bigfacts/#theme=food-emissions&subtheme=direct-agriculture.
 “Secretary Perdue Announces New Innovation Initiative for USDA.” Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2020/02/20/secretary-perdue-announces-new-innovation-initiative-usda.
 U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree. “Congresswoman Pingree Introduces the Agriculture Resilience Act to Promote Farmer-Driven Climate Solutions,” February 26, 2020. https://pingree.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=3267