Another month, another announcement on a major climate smart ag initiative from USDA.
First, in August we had the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) — a measure that put nearly $20 billion into Working Lands Conservation at the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
This funding included $8.45 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), $3.25 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and $1.4 billion in the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)—programs all designed to help farmers and ranchers deal with natural resource challenges like droughts, floods and wildfires—they are also the types of challenges that climate change is exacerbating. Through climate smart practices like no-till, cover crops, improved pasture management, planting grass on highly erodible land, prescribed fire, and the like, agriculture producers adapt to these challenges while helping address some of the root causes of climate change through carbon sequestration and avoided emissions.
The act also included $1 billion for Conservation Technical Assistance to help with conservation planning (including helping ag producers come up with other climate adaptation and mitigation strategies) and funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), as well as money for a new carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions quantification program.
Now in September USDA has announced the first 70 projects to receive funding under Climate Smart Commodities initiative, funded by dollars from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). This initiative, designed to fund pilot projects that will create market opportunities for American commodities produced using climate-smart production practices, was originally financed with $1 billion in funds from the CCC. USDA has now announced that the level of funding for the program has now grown to more than $3 billion, reflecting the focus being put on climate smart agriculture by the Department and the huge number of applications submitted for consideration once the program was announced. Among the first projects to be funded are several in the Southern Plains states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Throw in the western drought mitigation money ($4 billion), forest management funding ($5 billion) and the renewable energy funding for electric coops and the Rural Energy for America or REAP program ($3 billion) also included in the IRA, and you see that over these last two months A WHOLE LOT of activity has been going on in the climate smart ag/rural development area.
What does this all mean? First and foremost, USDA is serious about investing in efforts to help farmers, ranchers, and rural communities “harden” themselves to extreme weather events. As I have often said, you don’t have to believe in climate change to believe in droughts, floods, and wildfires—this investment by USDA is one of the largest efforts to date to help rural American and production agriculture in the U.S. deal with the crazy weather that Mother Nature keeps throwing our way.
Second, these actions show the intent of USDA to help production agriculture to continue feeding and clothing the world while at the same time protecting our resource base and making a profit. The hope is that the projects funded through the Climate Smart Commodities initiative can show a way forward to connecting producers who are willing to undertake these climate smart ag production practices as part of their operation with consumers who in turn wish to purchase these products (and hopefully pay a premium) grown using these same practices.
And finally (it should be noted), all of these efforts are VOLUNTARY AND INCENTIVE BASED, keeping with USDA’s traditional approach. In other words, they provide a helping hand to producers, not an iron-fist of regulation.
These initiatives are just getting started, and there is a lot of work yet to do, but one thing is certain: there is a whole lot happening in climate smart agriculture.