The buzz words are everywhere: Sustainability, Climate-Smart, Regenerative, Environmentally Friendly. You can’t pick up an agriculture magazine without being bombarded with news about the desire in the marketplace for commodities that meet one or more of these perceived standards. The trouble is, nobody seems to know — or agree — on what sustainable or climate friendly is.

But the USDA is trying to fix that — or at least give more context to the discussion. On Feb. 2nd, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new $1 billion Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities opportunity designed to help finance pilot projects from farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who take steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, capture and store carbon, and/or generate other environmental benefits.

This new initiative is designed specifically to expand markets for U.S. agricultural products and forestry products through voluntary deployment of conservation practices.   Through this effort, USDA will spend up to $1 billion to help finance pilot projects that incentivize the creation of climate-smart commodities that hold higher value in the marketplace that farmers can then generate additional profit from.  This effort can run the gambit from carbon credits to sustainably produced meat — the opportunities are legion.

Funding for this effort comes from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation and can range from $250,000 all the way to $100 million. The deadline for larger grants is April 8, with proposals for smaller grants due May 27.  Entities that are eligible to apply include:

  • County, City or Township governments
  • Special district governments
  • State governments
  • Small businesses
  • Tribal governments
  • For-profit businesses other than small businesses
  • Tribal organizations
  • 501c3 nonprofits and other non-501c3 nonprofits
  • Public and private higher education institutions  

Proposals for funding need to focus on implementing climate-smart production practices, activities and systems on working lands; measuring and/or quantifying, monitoring and verifying the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits associated with these practices; and developing markets and promoting the climate-smart commodities generated under the initiative.

For more information, you can check out this USDA webpage and stay on the lookout for a webinar that will be held on Feb. 16 for more discussion on this effort.

This is a broad swipe at the program, and the deadline of April 8 is fast approaching, but this new initiate creates a great opportunity for farmers, ranchers and their partners to take advantage of any additional economic activity that can be generated when they undertake work to help protect the environment.

If you have an idea on how to make this happen, you have a rare opportunity to get it off the ground.