The Nature Conservancy recently hosted a virtual summit on the potential impact of climate discussions and possible federal legislation on agriculture. Indiana Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun, along with Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, participated, sharing why they’re proposing bills and backing legislation recognizing agriculture as part of the solution, not the problem.
Three well-known Hoosiers shared their thoughts on Indiana’s role in the climate debate. They included Jeff Dukes, director of the Climate Change Research Center at Purdue University; Jordan Seeger, assistant director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture; and Bob White, director of national governmental relations for Indiana Farm Bureau. Jeff Katzenberger, director of government relations in Indiana for The Nature Conservancy, posed questions.
How can Indiana farmers adapt their practices to help the environment?
Seeger: About 83% of Indiana’s private lands are in farms and forests. Many of these acres, especially forested lands, are already capturing carbon. In 2020 alone, the Indiana Conservation Partnership documented that 32,000 conservation-related practices were adopted. Our InField Advantage program through ISDA helps farmers test conservation-based practices and see the results.
White: The conservation partnership is strong in Indiana. Our problem is that not enough people outside agriculture know what we’re doing. We need to do more education if we want to see programs remain voluntary and incentive-based.
Dukes: Everybody focuses on carbon, but nitrous oxide is a far more powerful pollutant. Yes, many farmers are adopting good practices like cover crops. But why aren’t more people doing it? Somehow, we need to help others who aren’t participating see the incentive to do so. There appears to be a disconnect right now.
What do you see as the role for state and local governments related to climate change?
Dukes: State governments may want to look at setting up carbon markets for farmers and landowners. There was legislation that would have done this for Indiana introduced in 2021, but it got caught up in politics. However, a task force may form from it. Having infrastructure is the first step.
White: State and local governments need to keep the educational aspect in mind. NRCS and others are doing research. The Division of Soil within ISDA and local soil and water conservation districts can help get the word out. More people need to see water infiltration demonstrations and videos. Education at the local level helped solve water quality issues 30 years ago, and it can help now.
How do we scale these efforts up and reach more farmers?
White: There are eight to 10 private companies promoting carbon markets. We are in the “wild west phase,” and we need to see what the federal government does. No one knows if the right price is $25 or $30 or some other number per acre for conserving carbon. Farmers need to be very careful until this sorts itself out. Some people are pushing 10-year contracts. What details are in these contracts? Be very careful.
Seeger: We need to remind farmers that the picture is much bigger than carbon, as Jeff noted. How can agriculture be a sink for nitrous oxide and nitrogen, not just carbon?
Who is first in line to benefit from these practices and programs related to climate? Farmers? Corporations? What about farmers who have already done these things? There are lots of questions to address.