Agricultural research and development may not be as flashy as other climate policy proposals, such as the establishment of a clean electricity standard or the Civilian Climate Corps, but it has a proven environmental track record, clear economic co-benefits and wide appeal. Agricultural innovations have shrunk agriculture’s environmental footprint by enabling farmers to produce more food on less land, with fewer inputs and greenhouse gas emissions. Since the 1960s, innovation-driven productivity advances have enabled farmers to reduce land use by 9 percent and cut the carbon footprint per pound of milk and chicken by over 50 percent.
Unfortunately for the climate (and for agricultural producers, who benefit from productivity-enhancing and input-saving innovations), total public spending on agricultural research and development has stagnated, and much of our nation’s agricultural research infrastructure is in disrepair.
Given the magnitude of the climate crisis, Congress should invest in a wide range of mitigation strategies, including embracing and expanding public agricultural research — which has reliably delivered environmental benefits for decades — and the infrastructure agricultural researchers depend on.