If Biden wants to fight off global warming, he should stop pestering farmers

For people who supposedly spend all their time trying to repair the damage done by former President Donald Trump’s supposed lawlessness, Biden administration officials sure do spend a lot of time trying to find ways around the law.  

From using the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to force COVID-19 vaccines (now permanently stayed nationwide) to urging Congress to include all manner of non-fiscal things in the supposedly all-fiscal reconciliation bill (overruled by their own parliamentarian), the Biden administration has shown a willingness to bend the rules to its political needs.

The latest such effort is to create a Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership program under the Commodity Credit Corporation, whose job is not to promote global warming policies but to provide financial help to farmers when they can’t bring crops to market because of disease, weather or other disasters.

The plan to get around limits on what the Commodity Credit Corporation can spend on and create a climate slush fund for agriculture is to use a provision in its enabling legislation that allows federal money to be spent to market commodities. In other words, it’s not an environmental program — that wouldn’t be allowed under the law. It’s a marketing program that will enable farmers to, in theory, get more for their products because they are grown in such a way as to fight global warming.

And that means a campaign against pesticides, synthetic fertilizer and genetic modification. Never mind that farmers have used pesticides since the dawn of agricultural history or that modern science has removed 98% of the toxicity of pesticides and reformulated them to reduce the amounts needed.

Never mind that without pesticides, 80% of crops (using bean crops as a metric) can be lost or that by mid-century, now just 29 years hence, 70% more food will be required to feed the planet. Fighting global warming trumps all, in the views of the Biden administration. Thus farmers will have to do more with less in the way of fertilizer, pesticides or genetic modification.

Agriculture was a big topic at the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland — and deservedly so. The U.N. says 40% of the population of the planet cannot afford an adequate diet. Agriculture accounts for 10% of global warming. 

Attendees concluded that the more land that had to be cleared for crops, the worse global warming would get because trees absorb CO2, and farmland does not do this efficiently. But without pesticides, synthetic fertilizer and genetic modification, far more land would have to be cleared for crops, making it even harder for countries to meet their Paris Accords emissions goals.

Climate activists may see this as a pick-your-poison situation, but that’s incorrect. In fact, it would be better if they took a long look at what goes into these products and what they mean for growing crops, managing farmland and feeding the world.

For instance, organic farmers prefer copper sulfate, which they see as a natural additive and not foreign to nature. But copper sulfate doesn’t work as efficiently as other pesticides, which means more must be applied, and more crops must be grown to compensate for losses suffered from using a less-effective pesticide.

Also, a Stanford University study found that modern agricultural technology has removed 590 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. That’s about 18 years’ worth of CO2 emissions at current rates. The study also found that 97% of the pesticides used in California — which has, by far, the most diverse agricultural portfolio in the country — were no more toxic than a cup of coffee.  

Another study found that the modernization of agriculture since World War II has saved 120 million acres, about the size of California and West Virginia combined. Suppose America wants to continue to feed its population and much of the world. In that case, it either changes course against demonizing these technologies or prepares for a future with a lot more of those 120 million acres deforested and repurposed as cropland. 

The world does not currently produce enough food to feed everyone. It could if the efficiencies of American farms could be recreated elsewhere.  

Recent months have brought Americans the fastest increase in food prices in 40 years, and scarcities have hit U.S. grocery stores.  

Now the Biden administration wants to go around the law to create a slush fund to make it harder to farm, more expensive to buy food in a country already reeling economically and, oh yeah, would be less friendly to the environment. 

Now is the time to recognize that, for all the demonization they endure, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetic modification are important tools in providing people everywhere with fresh, affordable and nutritious food — and without dramatically expanding the land needed to do so.

• Brian McNicoll, a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., is a former senior writer for The Heritage Foundation and former director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.