USDA lays out broad climate change mitigation plan

USDA lays out broad climate change mitigation plan

USDA's Climate Change mitigation plan includes soil health, nitrogen stewardship, land conservation and energy efficiency tactics

USDA has a broad new plan to continue efforts that may mitigate the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the environment, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told a group of ag stakeholders Thursday at Michigan State University.

Related: White House Assessment Calls for 'Urgent Action' on Climate Change

The voluntary initiatives plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration and expand renewable energy production in the agricultural and forestry sectors. They build on USDA "climate hubs" announced in 2013, and are in line with White House efforts to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

Brubaker Farms is both a dairy and green energy producer in Mount Joy, Pa. Their digester can handle more than 41,859 metric tons of organic waste, to capture methane that powers a low emission generator producing 225 kW that powers the digester and farm operation.

USDA estimates the variety of emissions-reducing and carbon sequestration tactics may amount to cutting about 2% of economy-wide net greenhouse emissions by 2025, the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road.

"American farmers and ranchers are leaders when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and improving efficiency in their operations. That's why U.S. agricultural emissions are lower than the global average," Vilsack said.

The plan includes a variety of incentive-based initiatives, he said, which ultimately may improve ag production and increase energy efficiency for many farms.

The projects will be based on five principles: Voluntary and incentive-based; focuses on multiple environmental and economic benefits; meets the needs of producers; is cooperative and focused on building partnerships; and allows assessment of progress and measures success.

Related: Obama Administration Calls on Ag to Cut Methane Emissions

USDA rolled out 10 "building blocks" that will use partnerships and other resources to work with farmers in implementing new ways to farm more efficiently. USDA plans to offer technical assistance and financial incentives to participating producers.

USDA climate change mitigation building blocks >>

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USDA climate change mitigation building blocks include:

Soil health: Soil resilience and productivity will be promoted through no-till and conservation tillage; the effort aims to increase the use of no-till systems to cover more than 100 million acres by 2025.

Nitrogen stewardship: Focus on the right timing, type, placement and quantity of nutrients to reduce nitrous oxide emissions and provide cost savings through efficient application.

Livestock partnerships: Encourage broader deployment of anaerobic digesters, lagoon covers, composting, and solids separators to reduce methane emissions from cattle, dairy, and swine operations, including the installation of 500 new digesters over the next 10 years.

Conservation of sensitive lands: Use the Conservation Reserve Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to reduce GHG emissions through riparian buffers, tree planting, and the conservation of wetlands and organic soils. The effort aims to enroll 400,000 acres of lands with high greenhouse gas benefits into the Conservation Reserve Program.

Grazing and pasture lands: Support rotational grazing management on an additional 4 million acres, avoiding soil carbon loss through improved management of forage, soils and grazing livestock.

Private forest growth and retention: Through the Forest Legacy Program and the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program, protect almost 1 million additional acres of working landscapes. Employ the Forest Stewardship Program to cover an average of 2.1 million acres annually (new or revised plans), in addition to the 26 million acres covered by active plans.

Stewardship of federal forests: Reforest areas damaged by wildfire, insects, or disease, and restore forests to increase their resilience to those disturbances. This includes plans to reforest an additional 5,000 acres each year.

Promotion of wood products: Increase the use of wood as a building material, to store additional carbon in buildings while offsetting the use of energy from fossil fuel.

Urban forests: Encourage tree planting in urban areas to reduce energy costs, storm water runoff, and urban heat island effects while increasing carbon sequestration, curb appeal, and property values. The effort aims to plant an additional 9,000 trees in urban areas on average each year through 2025.

Energy generation and efficiency: Promote renewable energy technologies and improve energy efficiency. Through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, work with utilities to improve the efficiency of equipment and appliances. Using the Rural Energy for America Program, develop additional renewable energy opportunities. Support the National On-Farm Energy Initiative to improve farm energy efficiency through cost-sharing and energy audits.

News source: USDA

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