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What you should know about Biden’s net-zero ag emissions manifesto

iStock/Getty Images Group people of demonstration making protest about climate change, plastic pollution and forest fire for environmental problem.
Get to know Robert Bonnie, one of the leading voices in Biden’s climate change strategy.

According to recommendations in the Biden-Sanders unity task force document published last summer, “Democrats will partner with farmers to make the American agriculture sector the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions, opening up new sources of income for farmers in the process. We will expand federal programs to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners pursue high-productivity, lower-emission, regenerative agricultural practices in order to help build more resilient, vibrant, local and regional food systems. We will substantially increase investments in voluntary conservation programs, which will generate economic and environmental benefits for farmers and their surrounding communities.”

Although his name does not appear in the proposals, this quote was probably written by Robert Bonnie. You may not recognize this name. A former administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service under President Obama, said about Mr. Bonnie: “Obviously, climate will be a big issue for discussion in the coming Congress, and if I were a farmer, I would want Robert Bonnie in the room when those topics come up precisely because he is a bridge-builder and not a flamethrower.”  

Critical to your future

Robert Bonnie was a USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment under President Obama. He will be critical for your future. All of us in agriculture need to know more about Mr. Bonnie. Presently he is with Duke University and its Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. He is also leading the first Biden team at USDA.

He is an author of a document titled, “Understanding Rural Attitudes Toward the Environment and Conservation in America”. He understands that rural America has a huge impact on national environmental policy. He also believes “Congressional action on a variety of environmental issues has been impeded by opposition from rural stakeholders.”

Mr. Bonnie understands that 97% of the United States is rural. Yet, as he points out, only 19% of America’s population lives in rural America. Mr. Bonnie believes there must be U.S. climate action in rural America and in rural communities. He has data involving changing weather patterns among rural and urban voters.

For example, his polling indicates 57% of all urban/suburban voters believe they have experienced weather changes. Fifty six percent of Republicans believe they have not experienced weather changes. Thirty nine percent of Republicans indicate they have experienced weather changes such as increased hurricanes, flooding, droughts and higher temperatures.  

Mr. Bonnie also believes rural voters “…tend to have a more negative view of the federal government than voters in urban/suburban areas.” Mr. Bonnie, who will be a key figure at USDA, has also polled climate programs which are not labeled as climate policies.

‘Substantial skepticism’

As it relates to president-elect Joe Biden’s net-zero ag plan, Mr. Bonnie and his colleagues say, “There is substantial skepticism around both climate science and policy among rural voters. Yet, rural voters and rural leaders want to be part of the solution. Climate policies that allow for state and local partnerships, that position rural stakeholders as part of the solution, and that leverage rural voters’ interests in clean water, farmland conservation, and other rural priorities, are likely to be more popular among rural voters.”  The Biden administration will take control of USDA’s levers of power on January 20, 2021. Individuals like Robert Bonnie (that many of you have not heard of) will be critical for those in agriculture, ranching and farming as are those who want to achieve net-zero emissions for agriculture in its many aspects.

Note: Gary Baise organized President Trump’s agricultural team of advisers.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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