Minnesota Needs A Climate Champion

Promote sustainable farming

Grade: D

In total emissions, the agriculture sector is comparable to transportation and electricity. However, agriculture, like forestry, could provide carbon “sinks,” meaning that agriculture could take carbon out of the atmosphere. In its recent Greenhouse Gas Emissions inventory, 2005-2018, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reported that “[a]griculture and related practices in Minnesota are responsible for the most in-state emissions of both nitrous oxide and methane, two potent GHGs that have a significantly higher GWP [Global Warming Potential)] than carbon dioxide

Nitrous oxide emissions from crop agriculture increased by approximately 12% from 2005 to 2018; methane emissions from animal agriculture increased by about 15%. Emissions are primarily coming from factory farms, manure lagoons, replacing natural landscapes, tillage, annual row-crop systems, declining soil organic matter, equipment, agrochemicals, and ethanol.

Scientists are still learning how to restore carbon to the soil and make it healthy, but numerous sustainable and regenerative practices can build resiliency from extreme weather and other climate change impacts, reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and sequester carbon. These practices include, but aren’t limited to, agroforestry, silvopasture, managed rotational grazing, perennial cropping systems, cover cropping systems, and reducing or eliminating tillage.

What Governor Walz has done:

  • Added a climate endorsement to the Ag Water Quality Certification Program, which recognizes farmers who are using certain sustainable farming practices but rarely incentivizes new sustainable farming practices. At this point, the impact of the program has been modest.
  • Supports appropriating about $4 million for the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota that is breeding, growing, and developing markets and supply chains for new perennial crops and winter cover crops.
  • Proposed several million dollars to accelerate cover crop adoption. However, the Governor has promoted this as a climate mitigation strategy even though cover crops build resiliency from, but have modest ability to mitigate, the climate crisis. Their utility for carbon sequestration is largely temporary.
  • Proposed to include climate impacts in environmental review for new or expanding facilities, including factory farms. However, environmental review must not be limited to the facility itself. It should include the entire supply chain: inputs, transportation and processing, etc.
  • Heavily promotes ethanol, a carbon-based fuel that exacerbates a row-cropping system that mines the health of our soil, is economically unjust for farmers, pollutes drinking water, perpetuates an unstable agricultural economy, and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

What Governor Walz should do:

  • Establish statewide soil healthy-farming goals and a plan to reduce and sequester emissions. The plan must describe practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, permanently capture carbon in soils, and increase climate resiliency. Gov. Walz should start immediately by supporting HF 701 / SF 1113 authored by Rep. Todd Lippert and Sen. Kent Eken, the 100% Soil Healthy-Farming bill that was drafted by Minnesota farmers.
  • Back landscape-scale investments into regenerative and sustainable agriculture to ensure that all farmers have the resources they need to implement soil-healthy practices such as managed rotational grazing, agroforestry, perennial cropping, cover cropping, no-till, and organics. To start, Gov. Walz should support HF 701/SF 1113 as described above.
  • Invest in needed farmer education, technical assistance, and outreach to promote adoption of soil-healthy practices through state programs and non-profits.
  • Transition away from factory farming in a way that is just for food system workers and ensures sustainable meat and dairy products are affordable for low-income people. Factory farming is economically unjust for farmers, harmful to human health, pollutes our water and air, and requires inputs that exacerbate the climate crisis.
  • Require environmental review and permitting of factory farms to include the entire supply chain’s environmental, climate, economic, and social impact and requiring factory farms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the rates required by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • Start immediately by supporting HF 661 / SF 1506 authored by Rep. Ginny Klevorn and Sen. Scott Dibble which fully funds the Forever Green Initiative to develop regenerative cropping systems at the University of Minnesota at $10 million per biennium, which the Governor promised to do on the campaign trail.
  • Help farmers divest from and facilitate a just phase out of the ethanol industry.
  • Help farmers install clean energy systems on working lands and promote investments in electrified farming equipment. Many farmers, for example, plant crops around wind turbines or graze underneath solar panels.

More benefits for all Minnesotans:

  • Support soil-healthy farming by investing in local and regional food system infrastructure. This includes reviving the small processing industry, advancing institutional buying of local foods, and expanding local and regional markets across the state. In addition to supporting sustainable and regenerative agriculture, this will provide access for all Minnesotans to affordable, nutritious local food.
  • Small and mid-sized farmers are leading the way in climate-smart agriculture by investing in the health of the land, their communities, and future generations. To keep these farmers on the land and get more of these folks on the land, Gov. Walz must halt consolidation, establish a fair supply management system that awards ecosystem services, ensuring all corporations pay their fair share, and support beginning farmers, particularly Black, brown, and Indigenous beginning farmers, in accessing land and capital.
  • We cannot build soil health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon, or even grow food for our communities without healthy pollinators, investing in transitions to organic cropping systems, or divesting from the agrochemical industry. These protections and transitions will also ensure that our future generations are healthy, have a stable food economy, and have clean air and water.