What is needed in the USDA Climate Smart Agriculture Program


Leaders from around the world gathered at the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, or COP26, for a series of events and announcements focused on the United States’ commitment to work with international partners to fight against climate change. Here at home, the agriculture department is taking action to advance the adoption and understanding of climate-smart farming practices.

Agriculture stakeholders provided an overview of USDA’s public demand for information on the development of its new climate-smart agriculture and forestry partnership program. The program will be funded through the Commodity Credit Corporation with the aim of encouraging the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices or CSAF practices by producers and to promote domestic and foreign markets for the products of climate-smart base.

CSAF, announcement by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in September, is an initiative to partner with agriculture, forestry and rural communities and fund the deployment of climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices to help commercialize of climate-smart agricultural products.

Vilsack says nearly 400 comments were submitted to the agency because he’s now working to develop a framework to help advance the adoption of climate-smart farming practices. Vilsack says he hopes to announce the framework by the end of the year so the USDA can start receiving applications in the first quarter of 2022 and start seeing investments soon after during the first and second. quarters.

Vilsack says he’s excited to set up pilot projects to help the agency “walk before they run” and measure data to help farmers understand the impact of smart climate change on their farming operations. He adds that all the initial actions employed by the USDA follow recommendations offered by the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, which is made up of more than 80 organizations representing farmers, ranchers, forest owners, agribusinesses, manufacturers. , the food and innovation sector, state governments, sportspeople and conservationists.

Here are several themes identified by those who have commented on how the USDA should develop the program.

The government should offer a voluntary and incentive approach to encourage action. Most of the funding for the program is expected to go to producers to incentivize the adoption of climate-smart practices. While the program itself can be results-based, a practice-based approach will be the fastest and easiest to implement. Direct support, cost-sharing, technical support, grant loans and loan guarantees would all be acceptable uses of program funds, according to the FACA.

Funding and opportunities accessible to all. Organizations representing FACA believe that voluntary carbon markets should be available and accessible to all producers and landowners despite regional differences, types of crops and production, total area cultivated, size of farms and forests, race or gender.

The AGree initiative also suggests that the program ensures that all U.S. agricultural producers and forest owners can participate, with a particular focus on the inclusion of Black, Indigenous and Latinx farmers, youth and beginners as well as established farmers. , on a small and large scale. farmers and farmers who cultivate a variety of crops and / or operate integrated cropping and livestock systems.

Early adopters should be taken into account. FACA encourages USDA to develop meaningful opportunities for early adopters of CSAF practices to recognize their contributions and support the advancement of their work. The FACA has approved a one-time payment to first-time users, subject to participation in a new USDA-approved incentive program (such as the CSAF Partnership Initiative) or an existing conservation program.

The research must strategically align with the desired outcomes. A climate-smart agricultural research enterprise should be developed that coordinates research on economic, social, and environmental sustainability in USDA mission areas, the U.S. government, and non-federal research partners and builds infrastructure for research needed to facilitate this important work, says AGree.

Uniform carbon intensity required for the contribution of biofuels. Growth Energy called on USDA to credit farmers for instituting carbon-friendly farming practices and to take them into consideration when assessing carbon intensity scores for biofuels, especially for programs such as the sustainable aviation fuel and global efforts to combat climate change.

In comments from the CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, Brian Jennings, he sees the proposed CSAF program as an opportunity to expand the recently announced $ 7.5 million Expanding Soil Health Through Carbon Markets Regional Conservation Partnership Program, that ACE is leading with project partners South Dakota Corn Growers, Dakota Ethanol, South Dakota State University, Cultivating Conservation and collaborator Sandia National Labs. ACE’s comments on the program reflect this goal by outlining how the USDA can implement the CSAF program in a way that expands farmers’ access to low-carbon fuel standards markets. through the establishment of validated and non-exclusive verification protocols.

In the case of ACE’s RCPP project, Dakota Ethanol estimates that if California were to credit its farmers for adopting NRCS-approved no-till practices with the LCFS program, it would amount to between $ 10 million and $ 12 million per year in premiums for their ethanol. This translates to an approximate amount of $ 0.39 per bushel for corn grown using climate smart farming practices.

The integration of financial risks must also be examined. A program should also better align financial incentives in risk management and agricultural finance systems to promote conservation, for example by using crop insurance products such as the recently approved post-application coverage rider for farmers. which apply nitrogen fertilizers in a fractional manner.

AGree says it is imperative that pilots be established to explore the integration of the risk benefits of climate smart practices into credit risk ratings, underwriting processes and other assessments. Likewise, it is essential to align the incentives for producers who adopt climate-smart practices and to remove the barriers that currently limit the development of new market opportunities for climate-smart products. This includes creating financial incentives and protections for producers in transition to adopting new conservation practices, as well as creating clear standards and authorities regarding emerging markets for climate-smart commodities.

Partner with local, farmer-led conservation projects. Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, with members across the Upper Midwest, encouraged the USDA to focus on conservation projects led by local farmers. Edge President Brody Stapel says the cooperative sees great potential in financial incentives for dairy farmers who are committed to incorporating non-traditional farming practices aimed at reducing their carbon footprint.

He specifically pointed out that local farmers were working together on a voluntary basis to take advantage of innovative ideas and financial resources. Stapel said Edge supports a model developed in part by a sister organization, Farmers for Sustainable Food, which focuses on farm-level sustainability projects. This group and a set of partners have developed a comprehensive framework for replicable projects and are piloting it with a local farmer group in Wisconsin. The nationally recognized project incorporates economically viable conservation.

Seed innovation seen as the foundation of climate-smart agriculture. American Seed Trade Association President and CEO Andy LaVigne submitted comments on behalf of the US seed industry and explains that quality seeds play a fundamental role in building climate-smart agricultural and forestry production programs.

“Seed innovation, from the latest breeding methods to seed treatments and new varieties of cover crops, is what will allow us to adapt to new and emerging challenges in agricultural production and forest health, and to driving the solutions of tomorrow, for the benefit of our planet and our food, ”says LaVigne. Appropriate policies can incentivize investments in plant breeding innovation, such as gene editing, while creating new jobs and market opportunities and enhancing sustainability along the food value chain. .


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