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Organic takes on climate change

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Organic Trade Association unveils blueprint to advance organic in climate change policy.

The threat that climate change poses to our world, our ecosystem and our health demands bold policy solutions, and, as the devastating impacts of a warming Earth mount, the push for the development of robust and comprehensive federal climate policy is gaining traction. Organic agriculture can be a part of the solution and help tackle climate change through its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, store away huge amounts of carbon and enable farmers to be resilient in an evolving climate. 

The Organic Trade Association on Thursday released a major report on organic and its ability to mitigate climate change, identifying policy opportunities to elevate the role of organic in the climate change discussion, support organic farmers and encourage the transition to organic farming. Reflecting close dialogue with organic stakeholders and the association's membership, the white paper, "Advancing Organic to Mitigate Climate Change," incorporates the key principles identified by the Organic Trade Association's Board of Directors to achieve meaningful climate policy solutions. 

The trade association also recently announced the launch of a Climate Task Force, open to all Organic Trade Association members. The task force will amplify the Organic Trade Association's voice in climate policy discussions by advocating for policies that address the association's core principles and sharing recommendations with lawmakers and key stakeholders. 

"Our climate crisis is real, immediate and affects us all. It is clear that urgent action is needed to help us mitigate and adapt to this crisis," said Avi Garbow, Organic Trade Association Board member and environmental advocate for Patagonia Works. "While the nation's conventional agricultural sector's emissions and practices contribute to our worsening climate, there is a time-tested climate solution that regenerates our soils, nourishes our communities and safeguards our environment from harmful synthetic chemicals: organic agriculture." 

Garbow, a nationally recognized environmental leader who served as the General Counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency from 2013-2017, added, "The Organic Trade Association, through the work of its members, the Climate Task Force and its research and analysis will ensure that organic is well-positioned to play a leading and cost-effective role in stemming and ultimately reversing the effects of our changing climate." 

Organic priorities in the climate change fight

Organic agriculture provides a critical opportunity to mitigate climate change and at the same time create economic, environmental and health benefits for all those involved in our food system—from the grower and the processor to the distributor and the consumer. But although public and private initiatives to support organic as a climate mitigation tool exist, stronger federal support is needed for organic to reach its full potential to fight against climate change. 

The Organic Trade Association's Board of Directors early this year determined that organic had to be elevated in the climate change policy discussions that are increasingly taking place in the halls of Congress, in government offices and in corporate boardrooms. The Board also agreed that the Organic Trade Association, as the leading voice in the nation for the organic sector, should spearhead the effort to advance organic as a solution to climate change and to protect organic from the risk of climate change. A climate task force consisting of seven Board members was formed with the goal of developing principles for good climate policy to guide organic's engagement in climate policy discussions. 

In June at the association's annual meeting, the Board unanimously endorsed ten principles for climate policy. 

The Organic Trade Association will engage in smart climate policy solutions that: 

1. Advance organic agriculture. Any policy that addresses the role of climate change in food and agriculture should advance the opportunity for organic to be a climate change solution, allow organic to be successful and not undermine organic. 

2. Are science-based, data-driven and verifiable. Policy solutions should be based on and supported by science and data, with strong verification measures to meaningfully reduce agriculture's impact on climate change. 

3. Focus on outcomes and continuous improvement. Policies should reward the outcomes of good agricultural practices and enable a system of continuous improvement that achieves specific positive outcomes over time. 

4. Promote soil health and carbon sequestration. Improving soil health is an important and central component in addressing agriculture's role in climate change. Policies should include provisions for advancing soil health and carbon sequestration. . 

5. Lower the use of fossil-fuel based chemicals. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are a key source of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. Climate policies should minimize the use of and eliminate the dependency on fossil-fuel based inputs, especially synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. 

6. Provide solutions for mitigation and adaptation. Policies should provide the resources to not only mitigate the impacts of climate change but also help the agricultural sector adapt to a changing climate. 

7. Incentivize farmers and businesses. Farmers should not have to bear the brunt when making transformational changes. Public and private sector programs should provide tools and resources to achieve outcomes through market-based incentives or financial payments that encourage conservation practices or ecosystem services. 

8. Decarbonize the economy. Policies that increase greenhouse gas emissions or rollback progress in decarbonizing the economy and reducing emissions should be opposed. 

9. Foster agricultural diversity and innovation. Climate policies should foster diversity and innovation in farming systems and provide incentives for increasing diversity in cropping systems. 

10. Address equity and inclusion. Policies should address the environmental and economic inequities caused by climate change and include ways to support disadvantaged communities in adapting to climate change. 

"Among the many threats posed by the climate crisis, perhaps the greatest is the potential it has to impact food production. The good news is that organic farmers are already focused on building soil health and eliminating the use of synthetic fertilizers, two steps that can help agriculture shift from being a source of greenhouse gas emissions to being a net sink," said Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield Farm and member of the association's Board. "At Stonyfield we are excited to be working with the Organic Trade Association's Climate Change Task Force on advancing organic agriculture as a climate change solution. The climate change principles adopted by the association provide a roadmap for how federal policy can support climate mitigation and adaptation in agriculture." 

Recommendations to support organic's battle on climate change Incorporating the Organic Trade Association's guiding principles to fight climate change, the new white paper offers specific recommendations for policymakers to support organic farmers and encourage transition to organic farming as a key strategy for climate change mitigation. 

"As a company that has made organic food for over 30 years, Amy's has witnessed firsthand the inherent benefits of organic agriculture on the health of the planet. The Organic Trade Association's Climate Change White Paper, through scientific research, provides a practical set of policy recommendations to make organic agriculture a bigger and more meaningful part of the climate change solution. We look forward to seeing the positive impact of this important work," said Paul Schiefer, senior director of sustainability at Amy's Kitchen and member of the association's Board of Directors. 

Specific policy recommendations in the white paper include:

  • Elevating organic as a key voice in climate-smart agricultural policy.
  • Establishing a national program to support transitioning organic farmers by reducing financial risks, improving market infrastructure development and increasing access to land.
  • Developing a competitive grant program to provide technical services to organic and transitioning farmers to create better access to information about organic production methods that sequester greenhouse gases and improve crop yields.
  • Creating a federal Healthy Soils pilot program, based on existing programs at USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the California Healthy Soils Initiative.

"Extreme weather variability, caused by climate change, is the greatest challenge facing farmers," said Doug Crabtree, Montana organic farmer and member of the Organic Trade Association Board of Directors. "The (over)use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers is agriculture's most egregious contribution to climate change. Organic farmers demonstrate that farming systems can be productive, profitable and a significant part of the solution to climate change by avoiding synthetic nitrogen, building soil organic matter and sequestering carbon in the soil. I am proud that our trade association is taking the lead on illustrating the key role of organic food and farming in managing climate change." 

"U.S. communities, economies and ecosystems are under threat from climate change," said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association. "Federal policies can help advance organic as a key solution by encouraging the adoption of organic practices and maximizing benefits for mitigating climate change. The Organic Trade Association and our members stand ready to engage and support federal lawmakers in advancing these recommendations." 

Source: The Organic Trade Association

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