Not long after he was named the Republican leader on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., said he was pleasantly surprised to learn the committee was the most-requested assignment of the 50 new GOP members.
One reason for the peak interest: There’s a lot to do on the agricultural front.
Thompson discussed a number of those issues during a Jan. 27 virtual meeting with Rep. Fred Keller and Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding.
The Biden administration has been clear that addressing climate change is a major priority, and agriculture will have a significant role in that process.
Thompson said he’s willing to work with the administration, but he wants any new regulations to be ag-friendly. Farmers, he said, help reduce climate problems by participating in conservation programs.
“I don’t know if we’ll approach it from the same perspective (as the Democrats), but I think it’s time for everyone in the agriculture industry to get credit for the great things we’ve done, whether that’s for sustainability, climate change or just a clean environment,” Thompson said.
Conservation programs will get a major re-examination in the next Farm Bill, due in 2023. Democrats could push to increase the acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program. Thompson worries that could stymie land access for beginning farmers.
“The administration made no secret they want to link the Farm Bill’s conservation programs to climate change, and I think we need to be cautious about expansion,” he said.
Thompson said he does support the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and other conservation programs in general.
Redding agreed that funding for existing programs is important for Pennsylvania’s farmers.
He said there’s an $80 million backlog in EQIP funding in Pennsylvania alone, not to mention 1,900 farms in the state on the waiting list for preservation.
“There’s a demonstrated need,” Redding said. “The Farm Bill brings us together like no other piece of legislation, and climate change can bring more folks into the conversation.”
Keller, a Republican who serves central and northeastern Pennsylvania, said farmers have already done a lot for climate change —by hosting solar panels on their land, for example.
Thompson, whose district includes some of the state’s richest timberlands, said he would like to see more attention paid to forests as a tool of climate mitigation.
“They are some of the largest carbon sinks in the world when properly managed,” he said.
Redding agreed that agriculture has done a lot for the environment, but said all too often the work has never been considered in the context of how it can lessen the effects of climate change.
Thompson said farmers are plagued by a misconception that they are bad for the environment, and greater effort needs to be put into publicizing the climate-friendliness of precision ag, healthy soil, cover crops and permanent pastures.
“Agriculture has had a bull’s eye on its back when it should’ve been patted on the back,” Thompson said. “We should raise public awareness of the positive role agriculture has advocated for the environment. I look forward to leading a bipartisan solution when it comes to climate.”