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Apr 21, 2021
USDA invests $21.7M in to aid soil health, climate-smart ag and forestry

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced April 21 that the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will invest at least $21.7 million in several key programs to help agricultural producers manage the impacts of climate change on their lands and production.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded $6.3 million for 14 Soil Health grants and $5.4 million for seven Signals in the Soil grants through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). NIFA also is investing at least $10 million this year in a new AFRI program area priority called, “Extension, Education, and USDA Climate Hub Partnerships,” to train the next generation of agriculturalists and foresters to incorporate climate change research into their management practices.

This is the first in a series of announcements by USDA this week to underscore the Department’s renewed commitment to addressing climate change through adaptation and mitigation with climate-smart tools for farmers, ranchers, producers and foresters.

“USDA is committed to working alongside American producers, rural businesses and landowners to help them lead the way on addressing climate change, using the best USDA data and science to help improve their practices and spur new market opportunities,” said Vilsack.

Some projects funded from the Soil Health AFRI priority area include: Northern Arizona University’s project, “Pelletized Fire Mosses to Enhance Soil Health After High Severity Forest Fire,” for a new and effective way to boost soil health and promote the recovery of burned ecosystems. South Dakota State University’s project, “Flower Fields and Soils: The Impacts of Native Perennial Monoculture Plots on Soil Health,” aimed at improving the sustainability of agricultural production and evaluating new agricultural practices to improve soil health.

Some projects funded from the AFRI Signals in the Soil interagency program with the National Science Foundation include: University of New Hampshire’s project, “Novel Soil Frost Sensing Systems for Tracking Freeze-Thaw Cycles,” to develop, test and deploy wireless sensors and a ground-penetrating radar system for continuous measurements of soil frost. This is important because seasonal soil freeze and thaw impacts half the southern region and can affect permafrost, agroecosystems, urban ecosystems, and the interface between humans and the environment.
Georgia State University’s project, “A Novel Large-Scale Radon Measurement Wireless Testbed for Spatio-Temporal Study of Radon in Surficial Soil,” will develop a real-time radon measurement test with a wireless sensor network to be deployed around the north-eastern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia –­­ a metro area of 6 million residents with known high-potential for radon exposure. This is important because exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
“By combining NIFA and National Science Foundation resources, the Signals in the Soil program fosters collaboration among a broad set of researchers to fund the most innovative and high-impact projects where multiple disciplines converge to produce novel soil sensing systems,” said NIFA director Dr. Carrie Castille.
More on USDA Climate Hubs
The projects funded in this priority area within the AFRI Foundational and Applied Science RFA will strengthen and broaden the impacts of USDA’s Climate Hubs through the Cooperative Extension Service. The partnerships between Cooperative Extension and the Climate Hubs Program that are built through this investment will help to ensure producers have information needed to plan for changing climate conditions and to consider climate-friendly farming practices.
USDA’s Climate Hubs are a unique collaboration across the Department’s agencies. They are led by Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service directors located at 10 regional locations, with contributions from other USDA agencies including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Risk Management Agency. The Climate Hubs link USDA research and program agencies in their region with the delivery of timely and authoritative tools and information to agricultural producers and professionals.
“USDA seeks to improve our understanding of the physical connections, biogeochemical interactions, and processes between the soil, the environment and climate change,” Dr. Castille said. “These efforts will lead to new tools, practices, techniques and innovations for improving soil health and demonstrate USDA’s commitment to address climate change.”
To learn more about NIFA, visit here.

Growing Climate Solutions Act reintroduced

In a related development, on April 21, U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) reintroduced the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act, which will break down barriers for farmers and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices.

According to a news release, rhe bill has broad, bipartisan support from over 60 leading agricultural and environmental organizations.

Cosponsoring the Growing Climate Solutions Act are Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR), and Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Coons (D-DE), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Angus King (I-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Thune (R-SD), Todd Young (R-IN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ron Wyden (R-OR), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).

“As a Main Street entrepreneur and conservationist, I know firsthand that if we want to address our changing climate then we need to facilitate real solutions that our farmers, environmentalists, and industry can all support, which this bill accomplishes by breaking down barriers for farmers and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices,” said Senator Braun.

“Addressing the climate crisis is one of the most urgent challenges we face and our farmers and foresters are an important part of the solution,” said Senator Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. “The bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act is a win-win for farmers, our economy and for our environment. Our bill is a perfect example of how we can work across the aisle and find common ground to address a critical issue affecting all of us and our future.”

“As Americans, we have the ability to come up with climate solutions that can benefit our economy and our way of life,” said Senator Graham. “The United States has long been a leader in innovation. This legislation is an opportunity to put our knowledge and can-do spirit to work to promote business opportunities for the agriculture industry while promoting the protection of our environment.”

“Farmers and foresters are seeing firsthand the effects of climate change on their livelihoods, and I’m glad to have them at the table working on solutions,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “We will need nature-based solutions like the ones this bill seeks to incentivize in order to rapidly get to net zero emissions, as science tells us we must.”

“I appreciate the collaborative approach Chairwoman Stabenow and Senator Braun took in developing this bill. As a result of their hard work and their openness to input, the Growing Climate Solutions Act is poised to help our farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners benefit from becoming a greater part of our climate solution. American agriculture has already made great strides in reducing its environmental footprint while growing even more efficient. The Growing Climate Solutions Act will help empower farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners to build on that progress in a manner that rewards them for their efforts,” Senator Boozman said.

“AFBF welcomes the introduction of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which builds on the strong foundation of environmental stewardship in American agriculture by providing more clarity and guidance for farmers and ranchers as they explore or expand participation in carbon markets. This bill is evidence lawmakers can come together in a bipartisan manner to find solutions to environmental challenges while respecting the role of farmers and ranchers as they feed families around the globe. I commend Sens. Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Braun (R-Ind.) for working with Ranking Member Boozman (R-Ark.) to introduce an improved Growing Climate Solutions Act,”said Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“The Growing Climate Solutions Act is the first major piece of bipartisan legislation to help ensure farmers, ranchers and foresters benefit from reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and building climate resilience. Agriculture has a great opportunity to measurably contribute to climate solutions, from cutting emissions of nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide, to storing carbon. EDF commends the bill’s co-sponsors for seeing this potential and paving the way for farmers to be part of the solution,” said Elizabeth Gore, Senior Vice President of Political Affairs at Environmental Defense Fund.

“Passage of the Growing Climate Solutions Act would be a big win for agriculture, conservation and the climate. Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are critical to helping combat climate change, but they need a straightforward way to tap revenue streams for implementing climate-friendly practices. This bill would help ensure producers are recognized and rewarded for the role they play. We are grateful to the sponsors for working across the aisle to support natural climate solutions and address the climate challenge,” said Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer, The Nature Conservancy.

“Farmers, at their core, are businessmen, but they are also conservationists and they are also environmentalists. Farmers want to do the right thing for their farms, their ranches, so that they can sustain those operations, not just over their lifetime, but over generations. This Act gives us the opportunity to do those things and have some guidance and direction in what practices are good for the environment and there is an economic benefit for doing those particular things,” said Brent Bible, Indiana corn and soybean farmer

“McDonald’s is committed to working collaboratively with our suppliers and agricultural producers to achieve our science-based climate commitments. The Growing Climate Solutions Act takes important steps toward supporting voluntary carbon credit markets that enhance assistance for farmers and ranchers that use climate smart agricultural practices.  We advocate for incentives, recognition and rewards for agriculture operations that quantifiably deliver positive environmental impacts and foster agricultures unique ability to act as a climate solution.  McDonald’s appreciates Senators Braun and Stabenow’s leadership to introduce common sense climate policy that benefits both agriculture producers and the environment,” said Marion Gross, McDonald’s Chief Supply Chain Officer, North America.

“Families and individuals, who make up 36% of US forests, are already making an essential contribution toward mitigating climate change, but with appropriate incentives—could double the amount of carbon sequestered. We are extremely grateful to Senators Stabenow and Braun for advancing bipartisan legislation that helps remove the technical barriers for market entry to perform sustainable management practices that provide additional climate benefits,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation.

“The reintroduction of the Growing Climate Solutions Act continues bipartisan leadership and momentum to support voluntary approaches to help producers participate in new marketplace opportunities. This legislation is an important step toward developing the building blocks for supporting ecosystem markets and establishing stewardship as a viable revenue stream for producers, and we look forward to continuing to support the Committee as the bill moves forward,” said Jason Weller, President of President of Truterra, LLC, the sustainability business and subsidiary of Land O’Lakes, Inc.

“The bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act recognizes farmers, agribusinesses and rural communities as key allies in the fight against climate change. Our agriculture sector brings the cutting-edge technology and entrepreneurial spirit needed to help tackle this historic challenge. We appreciate Senator Debbie Stabenow and Senator Mike Braun for leading a bipartisan proposal to reward agricultural innovation, amplify climate solutions that start on America’s farms, and spark new market opportunities for agriculture,” said Chuck Lippstreu, President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act creates a certification program at USDA to help solve technical entry barriers that prevent farmer and forest landowner participation in carbon credit markets. These issues – including access to reliable information about markets and access to qualified technical assistance providers and credit protocol verifiers – have limited both landowner participation and the adoption of practices that help reduce the costs of developing carbon credits.

To address this, bill establishes a Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification Program through which USDA will be able to provide transparency, legitimacy, and informal endorsement of third-party verifiers and technical service providers that help private landowners generate carbon credits through a variety of agriculture and forestry related practices. The USDA certification program will ensure that these assistance providers have agriculture and forestry expertise, which is lacking in the current marketplace. As part of the program, USDA will administer a new website, which will serve as a “one stop shop” of information and resources for producers and foresters who are interested in participating in carbon markets.

Through the program, USDA will help connect landowners to private sector actors who can assist the landowners in implementing the protocols and monetizing the climate value of their sustainable practices. Third party entities, certified under the program, will be able to claim the status of a “USDA Certified” technical assistance provider or verifier. The USDA certification lowers barriers to entry in the credit markets by reducing confusion and improving information for farmers looking to implement practices that capture carbon, reduce emissions, improve soil health, and make operations more sustainable.

Today, many third-party groups are developing protocols and testing methods to calculate emissions reduction and sequestration in agriculture and forestry. The landscape is evolving rapidly. The Growing Climate Solutions Act recognizes this fact and provides the Secretary with a robust advisory council composed of agriculture experts, scientists, producers, and others. The advisory council shall advise the Secretary and ensure that the certification program remains relevant, credible, and responsive to the needs of farmers, forest landowners, and carbon market participants alike.

Finally, the bill instructs USDA to produce a report to Congress to advise about the further development of this policy area including: barriers to market entry, challenges raised by farmers and forest landowners, market performance, and suggestions on where USDA can make a positive contribution to the further adoption of voluntary carbon sequestration practices in agriculture and forestry.




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