Statement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on National Climate Assessment
Report Takes Unprecedented Look at Impact of Climate Change on Rural America
WASHINGTON, May 6, 2014—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the following statement today on the National Climate Assessment and Obama Administration efforts on climate change:
"The National Climate Assessment confirms that climate change is affecting every region of the country and critical sectors of the economy like agriculture. This assessment provides an unprecedented look at how the changing climate and extreme weather impact rural America," said Secretary Vilsack. "The Obama Administration continues to take steps to responsibly cut carbon pollution, slow the effects of climate change and support an expanded domestic energy economy. At USDA, we're working closely with our nation's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to help them manage the negative impacts of climate change, reduce their energy costs, and grow the bioeconomy to create jobs in rural America."
For the first time ever, The National Climate Assessment examined the effects of climate change on rural communities. Rural communities are tremendously resilient but will face particular obstacles in responding to and preparing for climate change risks. In particular, physical isolation, limited economic diversity, and higher poverty rates, combined with an aging population, increase the vulnerability of rural communities.
Across the country, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are also seeing an increase in risks to their operations due to fires, increases in invasive pests, droughts, and floods. In the Midwest, growing seasons have lengthened, the western fire season is now longer, and forests will become increasingly threatened by insect outbreaks, fire, drought and storms over the next 50 years. These events threaten America's food supply and are costly for producers and rural economies. Drought alone was estimated to cost the U.S. $50 billion from 2011 to 2013. Such risks have implications not only for agricultural producers, but for all Americans.
Through the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with state, local government, agriculture and other partners on a coordinated response.
More information on the steps USDA is taking to address the impacts of climate change below:
- In February, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the creation of the first ever USDA Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change with seven hubs in regions around the country, as well as three sub-hubs in the Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest. The Hubs will provide outreach and information to producers on ways to mitigate risks; public education about the risks climate change poses to agriculture, ranchlands and forests; regional climate risk and vulnerability assessments; and centers of climate forecast data and information.
- In April, USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded $6 million to 10 universities to study the effects of climate on agriculture production and develop strategies to provide farmers and ranchers with the solutions they need to deal with the impacts of climate change.
- The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is helping farmers lead the way when it comes to utilizing advanced energy. Since the start of the Obama Administration, REAP has supported more than 8,200 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide with $264 million in grants and $212 million in loan guarantees. The new Census of Agriculture shows the number of farms using renewable energy sources has doubled in the last five years.
- The U.S. Food Waste Challenge, a partnership between USDA and EPA, is working to curb food waste within the United States, which is the single largest type of waste entering our landfills. It's estimated that between 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted. Food waste is generating substantial amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
- USDA is taking immediate steps to assist areas across the country affected by chronic drought. In February, President Obama and Secretary Vilsack announced financial assistance for California producers.
- Earlier this year, Secretary Vilsack announced that NIFA will make $6 million in grants available in 2014, and up to $30 million total over the next five years as part of a new initiative to provide solutions to agricultural water challenges. The grants will be used to develop management practices, technologies and tools for farmers, ranchers, forest owners and citizens to improve water resource quantity and quality.
- Last year, USDA renewed an historic agreement with the dairy industry to lower greenhouse gas emissions and to accelerate the adoption of innovative waste-to-energy projects on U.S. dairy farms which help producers diversify revenues and reduce utility expenses on their operations. This partnership will support the dairy industry as it works to reach its long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
- With fires seasons 60-80 days longer than just three decades ago, President Obama has proposed a new framework for funding fire suppression operations in US Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to provide stable funding for fire suppression, while minimizing the adverse impacts of fire transfers on the budgets of other fire and non-fire programs. Similar proposals in the House and Senate have bipartisan backing.
- A multi-year partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service is being formed to improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet across the nation. The project, called the Chiefs' Joint Landscape Restoration Partnership, will invest $30 million in 13 projects across the country this year to help mitigate wildfire threats to communities and landowners, protect water quality, and supply and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species.
- Last month, Secretary Vilsack announced that Farm Service Agency-administered disaster assistance programs, reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill were open for applications. To date, approximately 33,000 applications have been received.
Along with these examples, USDA administers a wide range of conservation programs, as well as efforts to boost biomanufacturing, bioenergy, and other cutting edge industries that reduce consumption of fossil fuels and make our land, air and water cleaner.
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