USDA to Launch Climate-Smart Ag and Forestry Partnership Initiative

November 19, 2021

To develop climate solutions that strengthen rural America, USDA is partnering with agriculture and forestry interests, as well as with rural communities, to finance the deployment of climate-smart farming and forestry practices to aid in the marketing of climate-smart agricultural commodities.

Under the Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative, the Agriculture Department will support a set of pilot projects that provide incentives to implement climate smart conservation practices on working lands, and to quantify and monitor the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits associated with those practices. The initiative, which is designed to complement and supplement existing private sector and state compliance markets for carbon offsets, represents an effort to monetize the value of ecosystem services in the price farmers receive for the commodities they produce.

USDA says the initiative is part of the Biden administration “whole-of-government” approach to addressing the climate crisis. The department aims to use climate-smart agriculture and forestry partnerships to enhance and create new markets and streams of income for farmers, ranchers, producers and private foresters; as well as strengthen rural economies. Meanwhile, an improvement is expected from the project in the protocols used to measure, monitor and track carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions.

In describing the initiative at COP 26 in Glasgow, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appropriately pointed out that agricultural producers are on the frontlines of climate change, facing extreme weather, drought and fire.

Guided by science, the initiative aims to support projects that create new market opportunities for commodities using climate-smart practices. The pilots will invest in the science, monitoring and verification to measure the benefits of the climate smart practices.

The concept of – and opportunity for – new or expanded markets for climate-smart commodities is not new. But there are barriers that have prevented these markets from reaching scale, including:

  • Failure to provide opportunities for “early adopters” to participate and ;
  • The lack of standard definitions of climate-smart commodities;
  • Lack of clear standards for measurement of climate benefits of CSAF practices;
  • Potential for double-counting benefits;
  • High transaction costs;
  • Limited ability for small producer participation;
  • Lack of efficient supply chain traceability; and
  • High risk of market entry.

Given those impediments, the department says that areas to be taken under consideration in developing the initiative include the current state of climate-smart commodity markets; systems for quantification; options and criteria for evaluation; the use of information collected; potential protocols; options for review and verification; and the inclusion of historically underserved communities.

USDA conducted a 30-day comment period on the proposal and is now using the recommendations it has received from farmers and farmer organizations, commodity groups, livestock producer groups, environmental organizations and many other segments of the agriculture sector to figure how best develop a formal Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) soliciting project proposals under the initiative. Department officials, who plan to announce the NOFA this fall, say the proposals should encourage the adoption of climate-smart practices and promote markets for climate-smart commodities. Project proposals are expected to be accepted early next year.

USDA is to be commended for reaching out to those who are most directly affected by climate change – those who work the land – and getting their input into a project that has wide potential for rewarding producers for the ecosystem services they deliver from sustainably managed farms, ranches and forest lands. SfL welcomes this supplemental carbon solutions pathway proposal, and we stand ready to help USDA pilot and learn from this novel incentive-based approach to scaling up climate smart agriculture systems and practices.

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