New USDA Initiatives to Combat Climate Change

Voluntary programs assist producers in reducing emissions and increasing carbon capture

USDA Climate Change

The federal government is offering incentives to get farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to help combat global warming.

The Agriculture Department last week unveiled a host of voluntary programs and initiatives to encourage agricultural producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage and generate clean and renewable energy in their operations. The department is hopeful the programs will help reduce emissions and boost the capture of carbon by more than 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2025 – the same as taking 25 million cars off the road.

“This is an ambitious but voluntary strategy that rewards and incents and builds upon the good work that is already being done by our farmers, ranchers and landowners,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the plan at Michigan State University. “It lays out the foundation for agriculture and forestry to be visible as part of the climate change solution for the country.”

The initiatives, which are carried out under the 2014 farm bill and don’t require congressional approval, are the latest push by the White House to bring attention to climate change and find ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions. President Barack Obama has made climate change a major theme of his final two years in office, and has vowed to help the United States cut its emissions by up to 28 percent of 2005 levels by the year 2025.

Agricultural operations contribute about 9 percent of U.S. emissions.

The USDA plan seeks to improve soil resilience and increase productivity by promoting conservation tillage and no-till systems and planting cover crops, among other things. A greater focus also would be put on more timely and efficient use of fertilizers to reduce emissions and help producers save money. In addition, it would back a number of practices to reduce methane emissions from cattle, dairy and swine.

Producers and land owners would receive financial incentives including grants and low-interest loans to help, USDA said.

Kevin Scott of Valley Springs, S.D., who grows about 2,300 acres of corn and soybeans, said he and other farmers are doing many of the things being proposed by the government when they work for their land and are financially viable. “The government doesn’t know how to farm. As soon as we allow someone who does not farm to tell us the best practices then we know we’ve lost,” Scott said. These programs and initiatives are “voluntary now until the government thinks they should be practiced on every acre,” he said.

Already warmer weather has led to a longer growing season, which has shifted where some crops are grown, while leaving fields more susceptible to pests that are able to survive the winter. In the Midwest and Great Plains, where much of the country’s corn, wheat and soybeans are produced, the growing season has gotten almost two weeks longer the last 60 years. The White House has noted that 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record, and said that 14 of the 15 hottest years on record took place this century.

“Farmers, ranchers and forest land owners … have seen firsthand on the ground the growing threat that climate change and increasingly severe weather presents to agricultural production, forestry sources and rural economies,” Vilsack said.

Original article:

For additional information visit this USDA page which includes the official press release, a fact sheet and a video message from Secretary Vilsack: