The Collaborative’s network of farmers and agricultural support organizations has consistently reflected that climate change is a critical issue for agriculture, impacting COVID recovery planning as well as long term disruption to our food system. From its impact on water management and soil erosion to invasive species, to frost damage, and worker health and safety, its impacts will test farmers' capacity to be sustainable and will require investment in research, education, and funding for improved infrastructure and equipment. A report we published late last year concludes in part that climate change requires systemic thought and planning now, not later.
As a result, Collaborative Ag Network Coordinator Jeff Cole’s work will focus on climate change over the next year. His work will focus on both policy advocacy, as well as on developing resources to support farmers.
The policy and advocacy work will address existing laws and processes, as well as pending and potential future legislation.
Signed by Governor Baker in March 2021, the landmark law An Act creating a next generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy notes agriculture’s role in reducing greenhouse gasses and creates the mechanisms under which carbon emissions from farming may be regulated and/or taxed. It also references farmland’s capacity to sequester carbon and sets a general goal to increase carbon sequestration in farm soils, and requires the formation of a natural and working land plan, which specifically includes farmland. The bill establishes a number of new boards, committees, commissions, and councils, specifying the participation of representatives from particular sectors, but farmers are not identified as participants in any of them. Agriculture must be represented on these bodies and we will work with partners to advocate for their inclusion.
The law also sets forth changes in state and municipal programs and regulations, as well as in state building, plumbing, and appliance energy codes. Each of these changes will require public hearings, providing opportunities for input that brings agriculture’s needs, concerns, and ability to support climate goals to the process. Key in this effort will be increasing funding for existing state programs, especially grant programs, that support farmers’ ability to adjust to climate change. In addition, many of these programs need upgraded policies and regulations to make them more effective and more accessible, and we will continue to advocate for meaningful change.
This law is by no means the final word on state climate initiatives. There are at least 12 bills filed in the current legislative session that are related to climate adaptation and mitigation strategies and impact agriculture. We are monitoring these proposals and will provide analysis and suggestions around advocacy. And we will work with organizations that support farmers to propose legislation in future sessions to better address climate change in light of the need for a secure food supply and successful farmers. We have a long way to go in addressing climate change, supporting farmers in adapting to it, and meeting the state’s ambitious goals for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Finally, we will be working to connect farmers and the organizations that support them with existing resources. Numerous state and federal programs support or could support Massachusetts farmers as they deal with the impact of climate change and the laws and regulations that result. Given that, according to the 2017 Census of Ag, farmers in MA on average lose 4% of farm income on a yearly basis, these programs have a critical impact on farms’ ability to remain financially viable as management costs increase due to the changing climate. We will develop an online resource that catalogs current information on the range of state and federal programs that farmers might use, across all supportive agencies and institutions.
Farmers and foresters can help Massachusetts meet its climate goals for adaptation, mitigation, and carbon management in ways that are unmatched in any other industry. State policymakers need to partner with agriculture to ensure that the Commonwealth meets its goals. We look forward to working with allies to ensure that agriculture is heard from and supported.
To stay connected with the Collaborative’s work around climate change and agriculture, contact Jeff Cole.
Update on Ag Legislation