To Reduce Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions, A New Study Recommends Strengthening Farmer Incentives and Emissions Measurement

Building on the Inflation Reduction Act and the 2023 Farm Bill renewal, a new issue brief by a multi-institutional team of researchers outlines policy directions for reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.


Dec. 14, 2022

News Type

Press Release

In the wake of the Inflation Reduction Act and in anticipation of the Farm Bill renewal in 2023, a new issue brief by a multi-institutional team of researchers discusses policy directions to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Their work emphasizes the need to improve methods for assessing policy-induced emission changes, increase adoption of innovative emissions-reduction approaches, and develop new tools for strengthening the environmental integrity of carbon credit trading systems.

“Agriculture makes up almost a tenth of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said Mike Toman, a coauthor and senior fellow at Resources for the Future (RFF). “Reducing those emissions will be imperative to achieve net zero for the entire economy. Given the upcoming Farm Bill and the recent influx of funding to promote emissions reductions in this sector, we now have the important—and at times complicated—task of figuring out how to use these resources efficiently.”  
The authors outline three policy approaches that can strengthen incentives for farmers and ranchers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions:

  • Increased government cofinancing to encourage farmers and ranchers to adopt low-emissions agricultural techniques  
  • “Climate-smart” agricultural commodity programs that promote goods with lower greenhouse gas intensity 
  • Private-sector emissions reduction credit mechanisms that allow farmers and ranchers to sell credits to other parties

The authors emphasize that measuring emissions accurately is vital across all three approaches. For example, reliable measurement gives credit buyers confidence that their investments are creating emissions reductions that would not have happened otherwise. However, emissions vary across locations and agricultural activities, and they are difficult to measure—making it challenging to gauge the actual effect of emissions reduction measures.  

“There’s so much potential in this space,” said coauthor and North Carolina State University Associate Professor Justin Baker. “But we can’t go on faith alone; when people have been farming and ranching in certain ways for generations, we need strong evidence to change our practices to match our changing world.”  

The outlines of the three potential policy directions highlight the need for further analysis, pilot projects, and new approaches to meet the needs of a growing global population with a much smaller carbon footprint. Getting to that point will require increased collaboration as well as funding.

For more, read the issue brief, “Policies to Increase Mitigation of Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” by Michael Toman (RFF), Justin Baker (North Carolina State University), Robert Beach (RTI International), Hongli Feng (Iowa State University), Eileen McLellan (Environmental Defense Fund), and Emily Joiner (RFF).

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

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