USDA has completed negotiations on more than 35 projects that are receiving funding under the department’s $3.1 billion Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday.

“A majority of the first 70 projects that were announced last year have now concluded their negotiations and we're looking forward to seeing these projects hit the ground running now to enroll farmers and landowners in these exciting efforts,” Vilsack said on a call that also featured representatives of participating projects.

USDA announced in September it was investing $2.8 billion in those projects, and in December announced another $325 million for 71 smaller projects.

In a news release, the department said it was kicking off the “implementation phase” of the program.

“Project partners are beginning work on formal implementation of the climate-smart production practices, marketing, and quantification, monitoring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas benefits that are funded through the effort as agreements are finalized on a rolling basis,” USDA said in a news release.

“In the coming weeks and months, partners will be opening signup under their projects for producer participation,” USDA said, inviting producers to visit an online Projects Dashboard for more information.

USDA also said it is launching a network to help project participants learn from one another – the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Learning Network.

“We have about 300 landowners that are actually signed up for our program, called The Family Forest Carbon Program,” said Rita Hite, president and CEO of the American Forest Foundation. AFF has received $35 million in funding for the project.

P.J. Haynie, owner of Arkansas River Rice, which is involved in a climate-friendly rice project that received $7.5 million, said “allowing farmers the opportunity to be incentivized to change their production practices, to be better stewards of the land, and to grow the commodity that they know how to grow, but to grow it more environmentally friendly, is exciting.” 

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National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said NFU members “all across the country” are considering participating in projects.

Vilsack said “there’ll be more opportunities to come as we finalize agreements on the remaining projects.”

Making a pitch for participation, he added, “If you're a farmer or rancher or forest landowner, you might be thinking, so what? What's in it for me? Well, if you want to get out in front of this new and expanding market opportunity, this opportunity is for you.

"If you want to increase market premiums and farm income, this opportunity is for you. If you want technical assistance and cost-share and incentives for improving efficiency and implementing climate-smart conservation, this opportunity is for you. And if you want to help build a new future for agriculture and forestry, this is for you. And frankly, it's for all of us.”

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