Fiber-rich Foods are Low-GHG
By aiming farm policy to prioritize plant-based (i.e. fiber-rich) foods, the USDA could contribute hundreds of tons of CO2 eq to carbon drawdown efforts every year. (Of note, fiber is only found in plant-based foods.) AFA proposes the Farm and Ranch Mobility Solutions Act (FARMS) as climate-smart ag policy, here’s why:
Potential for Carbon Drawdown in the Agriculture Sector
President Biden has set a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.1 In order to achieve this ambitious and laudable objective, strategies are needed in all economic sectors. In the agricultural sector, climate scientists suggest that a slight shift to plant-based diets can both cut emissions and increase sequestration.2
The Potential for Cutting Emissions in the U.S.
The University of Michigan recently reported that plant-based diets can cut annual U.S. emissions by hundreds of millions tons of CO2 equivalent per year.3
An upshot is that the predominant agricultural greenhouse gas in agriculture is a short-lived climate forcer. That means cuts today have almost an immediate effect on climate compared with CO2 reductions that, while important, don’t translate to climate cooling for a hundred years.
“Both near-term and long-term strategies are essential to protect climate. Reductions in near-term warming can be achieved by control of the short-lived climate forcers whereas CO2 emission reductions, beginning now, are required to limit long-term climate change. Implementing both reduction strategies is needed to improve the chances of keeping the Earth’s global mean temperature increase to within the UNFCCC 2˚C target.”4
Potential for Sequestering Carbon
Furthermore, fiber-rich foods tend to require less land.5 In America, approximately 200 million acres of cropland was formerly forest6 which means much of that land is eligible for afforestation. According to the U.S. Forest Service,
“afforestation can increase sequestration within the United States at an average of about 2.2 to 9.5 metric tons of carbon per acre per year for 120 years.”7US Forest Service “Considering Forest and Grassland Carbon in Land Management”
Meanwhile, cropland emits nearly one metric ton of CO2 equivalent per acre per year through N2O emissions.8 While some estimates by the EPA hold that American cropland has the potential to sequester some carbon to offset the corresponding N2O emissions, afforestation, where possible, remains the gold standard for carbon sequestration. Taken altogether, this means that if just a fraction of previously forested cropland were afforested, carbon sinks could expand by hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 eq per year as compared to today.
Potential for Profit
The Good Food Institute reports that the fastest-growing grocery product segments are plant-based. 9 Meanwhile, the Plant-Based Food Association tells us that members must source a majority of their inputs from foreign markets. We ask, why are American farmers being cut out of these emerging markets? Shouldn’t they be put first in line to capitalize on these accelerating trends?
Studies show that farmers who were formerly producing feed and fuel could make more money producing nutrient-rich plant foods. According to one study out of the University of Iowa, former soy-corn operations could bring in nearly four times the revenue after transitioning to diversified vegetable production.10
Potential for Food System Resilience
If U.S. agriculture policy prioritized bolstering local supply chains for fiber-rich foods by implementing incentives outlined within the FARMS Act, the domestic food system would be made more secure and resilient, all while making more money for independent American agricultural producers.
A Nudge in Policy Would Go a Long Way
By aiming farm policy to prioritize fiber-rich foods, the USDA could attain a net reduction of approximately 500 million tons of CO2 eq every year. In other words, we can make a long stride toward our climate objectives with just a slight shifting of priorities in federal farm policy.
- 50% reduction by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/22/fact-sheet-president-biden-sets-2030-greenhouse-gas-pollution-reduction-target-aimed-at-creating-good-paying-union-jobs-and-securing-u-s-leadership-on-clean-energy-technologies