By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy
This week is Climate Week in New York City. Georgetown Climate Center invited me to represent National Farmers Union (NFU) to their Low-Carbon Transportation Policy Symposium, where I’ll discuss business opportunities in low-carbon transportation. Producers and rural communities will benefit from expanded use of biofuels and electric vehicles, as well as better community planning, as the U.S. moves toward a low-carbon transportation future.
Greater use of biofuels will lower the transportation sector’s emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) while creating new business opportunities for farmers and rural communities. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a report that found conventional ethanol offers consumers up to a 43 percent reduction in lifecycle GHG emissions compared to gasoline. When the feedstock for that fuel is grown using a suite of increasingly popular conservation practices, reductions of up to 76 percent can be achieved. Deployment of those practices create new opportunities for conservation advisors and save farmers money on inputs, driving job creation and economic growth in rural communities. And as technology progresses for advanced biofuels, there will be additional GHG reductions and economic opportunities for farmers, since biomass crops require even less fieldwork and fewer inputs. As with conservation advisors, the need for agronomic education and different equipment will also drive job creation in rural communities as farmers get up to speed on new biomass crops like miscanthus grass.
Although electric vehicles (EVs) have more limited use in rural communities than urban or suburban landscapes, they do offer ways for farmers and rural businesses to save money where they do work. Rural electric cooperatives can capture some of the transportation fuel market share, securing demand and driving dividends for members, many of whom are farmers. In certain circumstances, farmers will be able to use EVs and may be able to power them up with renewable energy generated on the farm. Some NFU members have off-farm jobs in rural renewable energy installation, and wider adoption of EVs among farmers, rural businesses, and rural residents may drive creation of additional jobs providing those services.
Finally, efforts to pursue a low-carbon transportation future by encouraging compact development are critical for mitigating development pressure that prices farmers – particularly beginning farmers – out of productive farmland with access to diverse markets. As the average age of the American farmer continues its perilous climb, the U.S. is in increasing need of new farmers. Support for infill rather than exurban development helps relieve pressure on some of the land that is best-suited for new farmers to build the skills they’ll need to carry the food system securely through what may otherwise be a tumultuous intergenerational transition.
The Low-Carbon Transportation Policy Symposium will be attended by representatives of state and local government, business interests, and nonprofits. Our conversation will help us move toward policies and private endeavors that offer farmers and rural communities value for participating in climate change mitigation. We need to work together to avoid the worst impacts climate change may bring upon farming and food security.
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