ST. LOUIS — The climate deal reached last week by Senate Democrats could reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that American farmers produce by expanding programs that help accumulate carbon in soil, fund climate-focused research and lower the abundant methane emissions that come from cows.
The bill includes more than $20 billion to improve the agriculture sector’s impact on the environment, mostly by expanding existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that help farmers change to better practices. Farmers would be paid to improve the health of their soil, withstand extreme weather and protect their land if the bill is enacted.
The roughly $370 billion climate and energy spending deal would bring the country closer to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, according to new analyses. That is something many scientists say is important, and that President Joe Biden promised.
Agriculture is responsible for 11 percent of the country’s climate-warming emissions.
The funding would expand programs favored by both environmental groups and the agricultural sector, said Ben Thomas, who focuses on agriculture at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“They are voluntary. They are incentive-based. They get results in terms of implementing conservation practices on working lands,” said Thomas. “It’s great to see.”
Thomas said that historically, the agricultural sector has not tackled its contribution to climate change, but that hesitation has shifted in recent years and more money will accelerate progress. There’s a lot of potential, he said.
“It is worth taking very, very seriously,” he said.
Cows belch an enormous amount of methane and agriculture is responsible for more than one-third of human-caused methane emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is a way that people’s diets — if they are high in meat or dairy — contribute to greenhouse gas buildup. The bill funds efforts to alter what cows eat to reduce those emissions.
On farms, soil can hold or sequester carbon if it is left undisturbed and covered by a crop. Money from the bill will expand programs that help farmers turn their soil less, implement climate-friendly crop-rotation practices and plant cover crops that aren’t for harvest but improve soil health.