Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Climate-smart ag — rice can and should lead the way

Betsy Ward
By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

While scientists have been raising alarms on climate change for decades, it’s in the more recent past that private citizens have taken action — like home recycling — and started demanding more. Companies followed suit with their own initiatives, from the simple (switching to LED light bulbs) to the transformative (reducing consumer packaging).

The U.S. government has supported and pushed these types of changes in fits and starts for many years, but we’ve just seen something astounding with the Biden Administration’s Department of Agriculture pledging $1 billion to fund climate-smart farming initiatives. While the full scope of the program is still taking shape, it is clear that the new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program will help create market opportunities that benefit growers who have implemented and expanded practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. 

The U.S. rice industry should be held up as an unparalleled example of sustainability and land stewardship. We’ve reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 41% and energy use by 34% since 1980. And we’ve announced that by 2030, we’ll shave another 13% off GHGs and reduce energy use by another 10%. 

Successful partnerships 

The U.S. rice industry has proven success with unique and broad partnerships. Since 2015, USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited have been investing in practices and partnerships to sustain the future of rice.

USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited have been investing in practices and partnerships to sustain the future of rice since 2015.

We’ve attracted major corporate and philanthropic supporters, including Anheuser-Busch, the Walmart Foundation, Mosaic, Nestle Purina and many more. Through those partnerships, we’ve secured tens of millions of dollars in government grants and support that goes directly to rice farmers, allowing them to adopt sustainable practices that are making a positive impact on the ground.

Simply put, U.S. rice is the poster child for climate-smart agriculture, and this is the message we will continue to deliver to USDA, Congress, the White House and the marketplace. 

Don’t forget the bottom line 

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t say that one of the key pillars of sustainability is economic. While reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential in its own right, any climate action taken by our rice farmers needs to also make sense for their operations. The Climate-Smart Commodities program needs to include recognition of the fact that not every practice is possible for every grower. We want growers to have the freedom to tailor their sustainability practices to what’s possible, practical and beneficial to everyone, including the environment, and to be rewarded for the positive outcomes — even if their path differed from that of their neighbors. A one-size-fits-all approach that saddles farmers with onerous or impossible restrictions is disrespectful and counterproductive. 

While this new program focuses on GHG emissions and energy use reduction, the wildlife habitat we provide also improves soil nutrients, reduces pesticide use and aides with straw decomposition. Future environmental initiatives from the Biden administration should acknowledge the impressive diversity of contributions from U.S. rice farmers, because climate change is a complex issue with complex solutions.

It will be exciting to see this program’s collaborations and innovations, and to witness U.S. rice farmers leading American agriculture. At USA Rice we will do everything we can to keep our industry front and center here. The greatest gains will be achieved when producers, the market and the government work together. We’re more than happy to help the Biden administration reach their climate-smart agriculture goals. 

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