Solutions from the Land (SfL) wholeheartedly endorses Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, a USDA initiative that will provide up to $1 billion for pilot projects that create market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.
Climate-smart commodities are produced using farming, ranching or forestry practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) or sequester carbon in the soil.
As announced Monday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, projects launched through the program could last anywhere from one to five years and will provide opportunities for producers to implement climate-smart systems and practices that sustainably intensify production, improve resilience and reduce and/or sequester greenhouse gas reductions.
The applicant must be an entity, not an individual. While agricultural producers and forest landowners cannot not apply directly for the program, but they may earn incentives through partner groups selected for the initiative.
The program announced by Vilsack implements recommendations shared by the SfL-sponsored North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) in 2020 with the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis; the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and the USDA.
In fact, the USDA initiative is closely aligned with the framework SfL has been advocating for nearly a decade, unleashing high-value, climate-change solutions from the ag and forestry sectors on both a national and global scale. The initiative aims to utilize market approaches to reward producers for the climate-smart practices they deploy and the benefits they verify, another longstanding position supported by SfL and most recently laid out in the report last year: Solutions from the Land: A 21st Century Agriculture Renaissance.
Also tracking longstanding SfL policy recommendations is the role of the new pilot demonstration program to encourage large, landscape-scale projects, open to all types of producers, including early adopters as well as small and historically underserved producers.
The program will provide technical and financial assistance to producers who implement climate-smart practices on a voluntary basis on working lands. It aims to boost innovative and cost-effective methods for quantifying, monitoring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas benefits; and then marketing the resulting climate-smart commodities.
Highly competitive projects will include agricultural and forestry practices or combinations of practices – as well as practice enhancements – that reduce GHGs. The lengthy list of targeted practices include those traditionally associated with climate smart agriculture, including cover crops, low-till or no-till, nutrient management, enhanced efficiency fertilizers, manure management, biofuel feedstock development, and feed management that aims to reduce enteric methane emissions from beef and dairy cattle (methane is 25 times more potent a GHG than carbon dioxide).
In managing forests, carbon-reduction practices recognized by the program include agroforestry, which is the integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems; maintaining and improving forest soil quality; increasing on-site carbon storage through forest stand management; and making soil amendments like biochar.
Vilsack has made clear that early adopters of these CSA practices can expect to gain the benefits over the long term as the shift is made in how future crops will be grown. As production agriculture moves in the CSA direction, practitioners can expect extra value will be gained with the growth in related market opportunities.
While the department is now accepting project applications for fiscal year 2022, the USDA encourages multiple partners to coordinate on project proposals. A first round of what USDA officials call “meet and greet” webinars on the initiative will be held in the coming weeks.
An initial funding pool will accept proposals seeking anywhere from $5 million to $100 million and has a deadline of April 8. A second pool aimed at small and/or underserved producers is looking for proposals from $250,000 to $4,999,999 and is limited to particularly innovative pilot projects.
Stakeholders are urged to support the department’s commitment to an initiative that supports a diverse set of farmers, ranchers and forest owners through climate solutions that increase resilience, expand market opportunities and strengthen rural America. SfL looks forward to collaborating closely with USDA and a growing range of public and private partners in implementing climate smart production practices, activities and systems on working lands across the United States.