USDA Announces new programs aimed at environmental challenges

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 5, 2013 - In response to the increasing effects of climate change on the agricultural landscape, USDA is launching programs to help producers confront and adapt to the issue. 

The creation of regional climate hubs, giving tools to producers to help sequester carbon, and more uniform cover crop guidelines were announced as part of USDA's Climate Anticipation Plans. These plans are an effort to be proactive against climate change, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the urgency of the matter calls for action. 

Together we can feed the Bees"

“This problem is not going to go away on its own,” Vilsack said of the role in climate change in agriculture. “That's why America must take steps now to adapt.”

The creation of seven regional climate hubs will be “service centers for science-based risk management.” These hubs will enable USDA to handle climate change and issue plans of actions on a more regional level. Vilsack said the hubs will issue advice to individual landowners on how to adapt to a changing climate. 

“This will serve as a starting point to further implement new strategies for adaptation for improved soil health and water protection,” Vilsack said of the role of these climate hubs. 

Secondly, the USDA will work with NRCS to new technical tools for researchers as well as farmers and ranchers. Specifically, tools will be made available online to allow individual farmers to calculate how their conservation actions can remove carbon from the atmosphere. As carbon is a leading factor in climate change, Vilsack said the new program will help keep agriculture environmentally friendly. 

“We know (carbon's) importance, and understand the roll of carbon in contributing to global warming,” Vilsack said. “It's equally important to recognize the tremendous potential that American agriculture has to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.”

 NRCS also released data under the Rapid Carbon Assessment, which includes data results from more than 144,000 soil samples. Vilsack said this data will be especially useful because it is the “most extensive database on soil carbon in the world.” 

“This is going to allow outside researchers and scientists to begin taking a fresh look at carbon and soil, which ultimately will have a regional benefit to crop production,” Vilsack said. 

Finally, Vilsack announced a partnership between USDA agencies such as NRCS, RMA, and FSA to work together to establish common, science-based rules for cover crops based on local climate data, tillage management, and soil information. This information will be used to determine the latest possible time a cover crop should be terminated, and all three agencies will refer producers to one set of guidelines. 

“The bottom line today is that America's long history of innovation must continue,” Vilsack said.  “This will not be a short term task. It won't be simple, but it is do-able.” 

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