WASHINGTON, May 12, 2016 – USDA is on its way to accomplishing the climate change mitigation goals it set for itself last year, according to a one-year progress report the department released Thursday.

To keep the ball rolling on USDA’s 10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture – which aim to enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) per year by 2025 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced an investment of $72.3 million to “boost carbon storage in healthy soils” during a panel discussion held by the Center for American Progress.

“American farmers, ranchers and forestland owners are global leaders in conserving rural America’s natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Vilsack said in a release. “With today’s (funding) announcement, USDA is providing the necessary tools and resources called for under the President’s Climate Change Action Plan so producers and landowners can successfully create economic opportunity and provide the food, fiber and energy needs of a growing global population.”

In its “Building Blocks” progress report, USDA says…

To meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 4 to 18 MMTCO2e per year by 2025 through carbon sequestration in soils, it has:

  • Established the Soil Health Division within the Science and Technology Deputy Area of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); a division aimed at increasing long-term adoption of soil health-based practices and soil health management systems (SHMS) on working lands with educational workshops and technical training.
  • Established national guidelines for cover crops.
  • Provided financial and technical assistance to farmers so that they could implement best management practices, like no-till and reduced till, buffer and filter strips, conservation crop rotation and cover crops.
  • Started developing a Soil Health Monitoring and Enhancement Network, which will routinely assess and monitor soil dynamics across the U.S., provide producers with science-based options for enhancing soil heath, and leverage partners to accelerate adoption of these practices.

To meet its goal of reducing nitrous oxide emissions by 7 MMTCO2e per year by 2025 through targeted fertilizer application, it has:

To meet its goal of installing 500 anaerobic digesters on dairy operations and impermeable covers and flares on 10 percent of dairy cattle and swine operations, reducing 21.2 MMTCO2e per year by 2025, it has:

Toward its goal of enrolling 400,000 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), protecting 40,000 acres through easements and transferring expiring CRP acres to permanent easements, reducing 0.8 MMTCO2e per year by 2025, it has:

  • Provided $1.2 million for five CIG projects to retain lands with high conservation values.
  • Provided over $800,000 in RCPP grants to protect and restore critical wetland areas in two of the Georgia’s important watersheds.
  • Nearly doubled riparian buffers and other tree plantings on CRP contract acres from 2012 to 2015, from 50,000 to 99,000 acres.
  • Awarded $4 million to Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York to support CRP enrollment of riparian forested buffers within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. FSA is also partnering with the Forest Service to hire eight foresters, conduct outreach and stage a series of webinars and field days.

Toward its goal of establishing grazing management plans on 9 million acres (for a total of 27 million acres), reducing 1.6 MMTCO2e per year by 2025, it has:

  • Provided $1.8 million in RCPP funding to the Interagency Agriculture Council and its partners to integrate conservation stewardship projects with activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, specifically on Tribal rangelands in Alaska, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
  • Funded two CIG projects related to grazing and pasturelands – one to expand the use of management intensive grazing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and another to improve the viability of greenhouse gas emissions markets for range and pasturelands across California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Hawaii.

To establish trees and shrubs on 1 million acres of nonindustrial private forestland through NRCS, and to protect almost 1 million acres of private forestland from conversion through the Forest Service Forest Legacy Program and Open Space Program, reducing 19.5 MMTCO2e per year by 2025, it has:

  • Enrolled 106,389 acres in the Forest Legacy Program, bringing the total of protected forest acreage over the life of the program to over 2.5 million. Twenty additional FLP projects have been identified for funding in fiscal 2016.
  • From 2011 through 2015, NRCS enrolled more than 485,000 acres in the Tree/Shrub Establishment Conservation Practice, providing afforestation or reforestation for conservation benefits on private nonindustrial forestlands.
  • Allocated $1 million for an RCPP project focused on forest retention and carbon sequestration for non-industrial private forest landowners in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Provided $10.6 million in NRCS funding to aid forest managers working to restore longleaf ecosystems on private land in nine Southeastern States.
  • Developed a comprehensive Extension program to educate forestry professionals in the Southeast through PINEMAP, a coordinated agricultural project funded by NIFA.

In its goal to reforest 320,000 acres on National Forest System lands, reducing 2.5 MMTCO2e per year by 2025, it has:

  • Developed regional carbon assessment reports to help forest managers and the public understand how much carbon is stored in forest ecosystems and harvested wood products.
  • Treated 4.7 million acres to sustain or restore ecosystem resilience and watershed function and planted over 41,000 areas that had been previously affected by wildfire, weather, insects or disease.

Toward its goal of increasing the number of building projects supported through technical assistance from 440 in 2015 to 900 in 2025, reducing 19.5 MMTCO2e per year by 2025, it has:

  • Supported Wood Innovation grant partner WoodWorks in the conversion of 110 projects to wood frame construction, resulting in a 223,000-metric-ton carbon benefit to the environment (71,200 metric tons sequestered and 151,000 metric tons of emissions avoided). 
  • Granted a combined $3 million to support the development of tall wood demonstration projects in New York state and Portland, Oregon.
  • Improved wood-plastic composite materials so that they are lighter (more user-friendly) and stiffer (more durable), with the help of 3M.

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In its goal to plant 100,000 trees in urban areas to reduce 0.1 MMTCO2e per year by 2025, it has:

  • Supported the planting of more than 35,000 trees in 2015.
  • The Forest Service’s Inventory & Analysis program published its first city tree inventory in February 2016.
  • Started a collaborative pilot area in the Chicago Wilderness to help urban managers and landowners incorporate climate change considerations into decision making.

In its goal to promote renewable energy technologies and improve energy efficiency, reducing 60.2 MMTCO2e per year by 2025, it has:

  • Funded more than 1,100 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects with $102 million in loan guarantees and $71 million in REAP grants to help rural small businesses and agricultural producers reduce energy usage and costs in their operations nationwide. In total, the projects are expected to generate enough energy to power more than 83,000 homes for a year and reduce emissions by 13.4 MMTCO2e, the equivalent of eliminating a year’s worth of pollution from 131,500 cars.
  • Provided $1.1 million in RCPP funding to reduce energy use in Colorado dairies and irrigated operations.
  • Funded 625 on-farm energy management plans with NRCS National On-Farm Energy Initiative funding in 2015, bringing the agency’s total to more than 4,000 since 2010. Last year’s projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 50,000 metric tons annually for the life span of the projects.
  • Allocated $72.3 million in EQIP funding for projects that advance the building block
  • goals, in addition to the $1.3 billion in EQIP funding that has broad climate-related benefits.

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