When SfL farmers started down the road together at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, little did we know where the path would take us. Fast forward to 2021 to COP26 held in Scotland, where SfL farmers continued to share their 21st century agriculture renaissance vision, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA was committed to make a major investment in climate smart agriculture.
SfL’s vision for how farmers can bring agricultural solutions to climate challenges has begun to be realized by yesterday’s announcement by Secretary Vilsack that USDA is investing up to $2.8 billion in 70 Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities Projects . This is a remarkable and historic accomplishment that ushers in an era of new approaches to enabling agricultural solutions to climate change and other global challenges. Stressing the importance of voluntary and incentive-based agriculture climate solutions, that use innovation and multistakeholder collaboration to produce desired outcomes, Vilsack operationalized a pathway first introduced by Solutions from the Land in our groundbreaking report Developing a New Vision for United States Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation.
In this now decade old white paper, we opined that “the policies and programs of the past will not meet the needs and challenges of tomorrow” and shared “a new 2050 vision, where U.S. farmers ranchers and foresters will be enabled to manage land to produce food, fiber and energy needed to support a growing population and economy, while simultaneously protecting and improving biodiversity and the health of the environment”. We went on to outline the building blocks for the successful attainment of this vision: implementing landscape scale solutions and partnerships; harmonizing policy frameworks; rewarding stewardship of ecosystem services; energizing and coordinating research; and transforming and modernizing information networks. All of these elements were embraced in the Notice of Funding Opportunity for the PCSC program and are embedded in the projects selected in the first funding pool.
It was especially rewarding to learn that interest in market mechanisms for producing American agricultural commodities using climate smart systems, practices and partnerships is growing exponentially. In response to their initial $1 billion program offering, USDA received over 1000 applications with funding requests exceeding $20 billion dollars. In the first funding pool reserved for projects ranging from $5 million to $100 million, 350 entities teamed up and submitted 450 proposals. If this isn’t a clear signal that American agriculture is transforming and stepping up to deliver high value ecosystem services, we don’t know what is.
While SfL did not apply for a grant, we were partners on proposals submitted by two of our land grant university climate smart agriculture partners- the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agriculture Sciences and The Ohio State University. Neither of these were successful but together with our partners we produced strong and novel projects and learned so much along the way that will prepare us for future rounds of funding opportunities.
SfL aligned partners were however successful in securing approval of their projects. Solutions for Urban AG, a SfL affiliated project founded by SfL Co-Chair AG Kawamura, is a partner on the Elevated Foods Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities proposal. This project will implement climate-smart production practices, activities, and systems on a large scale across cropland planted to fruits and vegetables, with a particular focus on fresh fruit and vegetable crops. The partners propose to implement practices on hundreds of thousands of acres planted to fruit and vegetables in key growing regions across the United States, and extend the producer reach to urban farmers in Orange County, California, and the Navajo Nation, to meet the needs of small and underserved producers. The lead partner is Elevated Foods Inc. Other major partners besides Solutions for Urban AG include the California Department of Food & Agriculture, World Wildlife Fund, AgLaunch, Understanding Ag, Soil Health Academy, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Feeding the Northwest, CropTrak, Regenified, and Synoptek Primary States. Congratulations to this team for designing this innovative project.
Also approved was Horizon II: A Climate-Smart Future for Corn, Soybean, Livestock, and Renewable Natural Gas Production. This project, under which Sievers Family Farm, operated by Iowa Smart Agriculture Co-Chair Bryan Sievers, is a primary project partner, will enhance climate-smart markets, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve carbon sequestration in the production of corn, soybean, pork, and beef commodities, while creating opportunities for small and underserved producers and benefitting soil health, clean water, flood control, and habitats for native wildlife. The lead partner for Horizon II is Roeslein Alternative Energy, LLC, a funding partner of SfL. Other major partners on this large $80 million project include Biostar Renewables, Conservation Districts of Iowa, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa State University, Missouri Prairie Foundation, Sievers Family Farms, Soil and Water Outcomes Fund, Smithfield Foods, The Nature Conservancy, University of Missouri, Verdesian, and Veterans in Agriculture. We congratulate this team of entrepreneurial partners as well.
As the hard work of implementing, monitoring, and measuring outcomes proceeds forward, it will be important to remember that the ultimate outcomes we seek extend far beyond solutions to climate change. Our overarching objective is to demonstrate that agricultural landscapes are platforms for delivering a whole host of ecosystem services that improve livelihoods, health, and well-being. The agricultural renaissance that is being led by innovative farmers, ranchers and foresters is laying the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales, where agriculture produces nutritious food, feed, fiber, energy, healthy ecosystems quality livelihoods and strong rural economies. The only way this will happen is if we get out of our individual silos and work together to achieved shared desired outcomes.
The Partnership for Climate Smart Community program is a 21st century resource to address 21st century challenges. Thank you Secretary Vilsack and your team for having the vision and courage to create and launch a program that can transform and value agriculture for all it provides.