The Agriculture Department is looking for feedback on how to develop a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy as part of its implementation of an executive order on reducing carbon emissions.

The request, which will officially appear in Tuesday’s Federal Register, says “the feedback requested through this executive order is far-reaching; it encompasses the best use of USDA programs, funding and financing capabilities, authorities, and encouragement of voluntary conservation adoption.”

The Jan, 27 order itself says “America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

Specifically, USDA is seeking input through April 30 on “climate-smart agriculture and forestry; biofuels, bioproducts, and renewable energy; catastrophic wildfire; and meeting the needs of disadvantaged communities through USDA’s climate strategy,” USDA said in a news release.

“USDA is committed to addressing climate change through actions that are farmer, rancher, and forest landowner-focused and that create new market opportunities for the sector in a fair and equitable way,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“We want your ideas on how to position the agriculture and forestry sectors to be leaders on climate-smart practices to mitigate climate change,” Vilsack said. “This includes making the most of USDA programs, developing new USDA-led climate strategies, strengthening existing markets and developing new markets that generate income.”

“Through research, conservation practices and partnerships, USDA aims to find solutions to agricultural challenges, enhance economic growth and create new streams of income for farmers, ranchers, producers and private foresters,” the department said in its release.

USDA’s solicitation of input comes as Congress is starting to develop climate and infrastructure bills that will be aimed in part at helping farmers benefit financially from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

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Both the House and Senate Agriculture committee have held initial hearings on climate policy, and Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is expected to soon introduce a new version of the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would create a role for USDA in facilitating ag carbon markets. 

Among the questions posed in the Federal Register notice:

  • How can USDA help support emerging markets for carbon and greenhouse gases where agriculture and forestry can supply carbon benefits?
  • How can USDA encourage the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agricultural and forestry practices in an efficient way, where the benefits accrue to producers?
  • How should USDA utilize programs, funding and financing capacities, and other authorities to encourage greater use of biofuels for transportation, sustainable bioproducts (including wood products), and renewable energy?
  • How can the various USDA agencies work more cohesively across programs to advance climate-smart forestry practices and reduce the risk of wildfire on all lands?
  • How can USDA ensure that programs, funding and financing capacities, and other authorities used to advance climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices are available to all landowners, producers, and communities?

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