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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Beth Robinette and Lindell Haggin: Empower farmers to lead on climate

By Beth Robinette and Lindell Haggin

With every new report, it becomes more and more clear that the biggest threat to people, wildlife and our communities is climate change. Last fall, two major studies came out detailing the threat. The United Nations Environment Program released a report in November warning that greenhouse gas emissions are continuing unabated. Just a month before that, the National Audubon Society released a report showing that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extinction if we don’t reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.

The Washington state Legislature currently has the opportunity to empower a group of people with some of the best long-standing knowledge, skills and tools to address climate change and reach net-zero emissions in the state: farmers.

Agriculture accounts for roughly 7% of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions, and farmers and rural communities are literally on the front lines of climate-related events such as wildfire, flooding, drought, pests and other threats to our natural resources. One bill advancing in the Legislature this session would enable farmers to invest in sustainable farming practices. Sustainable Farms and Fields (SB 5947) creates a grant program to support efficient and effective carbon-reducing and sequestration practices aimed at increasing the quantity of carbon stored in the land.

The bill builds on the state’s history of successful conservation grant programs like the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. It will help farmers access funding to adopt carbon-friendly practices that they propose voluntarily. It also has the potential to help some farmers become producers and suppliers of the clean fuels Washington needs to reach its emissions goals.

Some of the sustainable farming practices currently deployed at Lazy R Ranch are the types of innovation that this grant program could fund. For example, grazing is carefully planned so that its cows are in the right place at the right time, and no area is over-grazed, a practice called “holistic management.” Since 1996, when Lazy R Ranch began using this approach, soil organic carbon has tripled. That’s carbon that is NOT emitted into the atmosphere.

Practices like holistic management have benefits beyond storing carbon, such as increased resilience and profitability. The rain infiltrates deep into the soil, and grazing can be planned to adjust to drought. Grazing can also be timed around wildlife needs. Lazy R’s herd moves in response to nesting times of migratory waterfowl and impacts to riparian areas are carefully controlled and monitored.

Beyond holistic management, wheat growers are adopting no-till cropping systems, potato farmers are using biofumigant cover crops, and dairies are reducing emissions using waste digesters. With greater adoption of these practices, spurred by an investment in innovation, Washington state can become a leader in climate-friendly agriculture.

Supporting the Sustainable Farms and Fields bill is a vote of confidence in our state’s farmers and their dedication to conservation and their ability to innovate. This policy allows farmers to build on their legacy of land stewardship while making the long-term investments necessary to improve climate and soil health, become more resilient to climate changes, and safeguard our vibrant farming community for future generations.

The Sustainable Farms and Fields bill has support from across the farming and environmental communities. It’s an impressive example of what’s possible when diverse stakeholders engage constructively and collaborate around a common goal. We look forward to seeing our elected officials empower Washington state farmers to protect our communities from climate change by passing the Sustainable Farms and Fields bill.

Beth Robinette is the owner/operator of the Lazy R Ranch in Cheney. Lindell Haggin is treasurer of the Spokane Audubon Society.

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