Our farmers and ranchers are the most productive on earth, largely due to their innovation and their ability to adapt to new challenges. As new threats emerge for American agriculture, USDA will be there to provide assistance – and this week, we announced new steps to help producers create solutions to meet modern environmental threats.
We’re already seeing these new challenges emerge. Last year was the second most intense year in our history for extreme weather events. It was also the warmest on record for the continental United States.
Earlier this year, USDA released two assessments outlining the effects of climate change on agricultural production and forestry. These assessments project that in the years to come, warmer temperatures, increased risk of wildfire and more intense weather events could further threaten American agriculture.
We know that producers are ready to lead the way on adaptation. The new steps I announced this week will complement their good work and help America’s farmers, ranchers and forest owners mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We’ll create seven “Regional Climate Hubs” in partnership with land grant universities, extension services and others. The hubs will serve as a source of regional data and information for hazard planning in the agriculture and forest sectors. They’ll provide regionally-appropriate outreach and extension to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on risk management techniques.
Furthermore, our Natural Resources Conservation Service has released a free online Carbon Management and Evaluation Tool, also known as COMET-FARM. Producers can use this tool to see how various conservation practices could help the environment and sequester carbon, while making their farmland more resilient. The tool is available for use at www.comet-farm.com.
We also released data collected under the Rapid Carbon Assessment, an historic effort to collect almost 145,000 soil samples from 6,000 locations in the United States. This data will help us better understand carbon sequestration by region, enabling better and more targeted conservation practices in the years to come.
Finally, we announced new guidelines to be sure that USDA agencies are encouraging cover crop availability for producers. In the past, different agencies had different, and sometimes conflicting, rules for cover crops. The new guidance will ensure certainty for producers, enabling them to achieve conservation benefits from cover crops without harming their eligibility for crop insurance or commodity programs.
You can visit http://www.usda.gov/climatesolutions to learn more about these new efforts.
Over the coming months and years, USDA intends to build on the new tools announced this week. We know that new threats loom from a changing climate – but we intend to continue our long support for the tremendous innovation and productivity of our nation’s farmers and ranchers.
For an audio version of this week’s column, please click here.