Ag to help cut GHG emissions

New voluntary, incentive-based conservation, forestry, and energy programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a speech Thursday at Michigan State University, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack laid out a comprehensive approach to partner with agricultural producers to address the threat of climate change.

Building on the creation of USDA's Climate Hubs last year, the new initiatives will utilize voluntary, incentive-based conservation, forestry, and energy programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration and expand renewable energy production in the agricultural and forestry sectors.

The Secretary was joined at Michigan State by Brian Deese, senior advisor to the president, as well as agricultural producers and other private partners. Deese noted that last year, President Obama made a pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Deese said that today's announcement will help the American agriculture and forest sectors contribute to that goal.

Vilsack said, “Through incentive-based initiatives, we can partner with producers to significantly reduce carbon emissions while improving yields, increasing farm operation's energy efficiency, and helping farmers and ranchers earn revenue from clean energy production."

"This is an innovative and creative effort to look across all of USDA's programs and put forward voluntary and incentive-based programs that will increase the bottom lines of ranchers and farmers while reducing net greenhouse gas emissions," said Deese. "Taken together, these partnerships will reduce emissions by 120 million metric tons or two percent of our economy-wide emissions in 2025 – exactly the collaborative, bold action this moment demands of us."

The framework announced consists of 10 building blocks that span a range of technologies and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage and generate clean renewable energy. Through this initiative, USDA will use authorities provided in the 2014 Farm Bill to offer incentives and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, and forest land owners. USDA intends to pursue partnerships and leverage resources to conserve and enhance greenhouse gas sinks, reduce emissions, increase renewable energy and build resilience in agricultural and forest systems.

USDA building blocks for climate action:

Soil health: Improve soil resilience and increase productivity by promoting conservation tillage and no-till systems, planting cover crops, planting perennial forages, managing organic inputs and compost application, and alleviating compaction. For example, the effort aims to increase the use of no-till systems to cover more than 100 million acres by 2025.

Nitrogen stewardship: Focus on the right timing, type, placement and quantity of nutrients to reduce nitrous oxide emissions and provide cost savings through efficient application.

Livestock partnerships: Encourage broader deployment of anaerobic digesters, lagoon covers, composting, and solids separators to reduce methane emissions from cattle, dairy, and swine operations, including the installation of 500 new digesters over the next 10 years.

Conservation of sensitive lands: Use the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to reduce GHG emissions through riparian buffers, tree planting, and the conservation of wetlands and organic soils. For example, the effort aims to enroll 400,000 acres of lands with high greenhouse gas benefits into the Conservation Reserve Program.

Grazing and pasture lands: Support rotational grazing management on an additional 4 million acres, avoiding soil carbon loss through improved management of forage, soils and grazing livestock.

Private forest growth and retention: Through the Forest Legacy Program and the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program, protect almost 1 million additional acres of working landscapes. Employ the Forest Stewardship Program to cover an average of 2.1 million acres annually (new or revised plans), in addition to the 26 million acres covered by active plans.

Stewardship of federal forests: Reforest areas damaged by wildfire, insects, or disease, and restore forests to increase their resilience to those disturbances. This includes plans to reforest an additional 5,000 acres each year.

Promotion of wood products: Increase the use of wood as a building material, to store additional carbon in buildings while offsetting the use of energy from fossil fuel.

Urban forests: Encourage tree planting in urban areas to reduce energy costs, storm water runoff, and urban heat island effects while increasing carbon sequestration, curb appeal, and property values. The effort aims to plant an additional 9,000 trees in urban areas on average each year through 2025.

Energy generation and efficiency: Promote renewable energy technologies and improve energy efficiency. Through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, work with utilities to improve the efficiency of equipment and appliances. Using the Rural Energy for America Program, develop additional renewable energy opportunities. Support the National On-Farm Energy Initiative to improve farm energy efficiency through cost-sharing and energy audits.

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