Climate change represents a significant threat to the future of America's farms, ranches and forests. USDA has undertaken a multipronged, multiyear approach to protect producers from the negative impacts of climate change and provide them with tools and techniques to protect their bottom line and ensure the future food security of our nation.
Reducing Risks for Farmers, Ranchers, Forest Land Owners and Rural Communities
- Established seven regional Climate Hubs and three sub-hubs to serve as a source of regional data and information for hazard and adaptation planning in the agriculture and forest sectors. The Hubs address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts, translating science and research into information for land managers. Since their establishment in 2014, the USDA Climate Hubs have:
- Published eight regional vulnerability assessments representing all of the Climate Hub regions across the country to provide stakeholders with an introduction to the region, regional sensitivities and adaptation strategies for working lands, a greenhouse gas emissions profile with mitigation opportunities, and an overview of how partner USDA agencies are being affected by a changing climate.
- Produced numerous outreach materials to help land managers make climate-informed decisions including demonstration projects and videos (e.g. Northern Forests Adaptation Planning Demos, Caribbean ADAPTA Climate Change Demonstration Project, and the Southwest Water and Climate Change Education Module).
- Hosted Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture workshops to help USDA field staff identify regional opportunities for implementing the building blocks framework.
- Developed the Climate Hubs Toolshed, an inventory of tools to help stakeholders make climate-informed decisions.
- Worked with Cooperative Extension and eXtension to build a Climate Advisors network and online Learning Network.
Leading Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Increase Carbon Sequestration
- Used conservation practices to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by over 416 million metric tons since 2009, or approximately 60 million metric tons per year. That is the equivalent of taking 12.6 million cars off the road for a year; or 6.7 million gallons of gasoline consumed; or more than 5.4 million home's energy use for a year.
- Announced the Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry, a framework to help farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners respond to climate change. Through a series of voluntary and incentive-based programs, USDA and its partners plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration by 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025.
- Partnered to advance markets for greenhouse gases on working lands. USDA has invested over $11 million to support 18 projects pursuing greenhouse gas market opportunities. For example, working with Ducks Unlimited, The Climate Trust, and the Bonneville Environmental foundation, USDA helped ranchers in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota sell carbon stored in grasslands to Chevrolet. NRCS provided Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) funding to develop the methodology needed to quantify carbon storage resulting from the avoided conversion of expired Conservation Reserve Program grasslands. In November 2014, Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, purchased almost 40,000 tons of greenhouse gases from ranchers to offset the company's carbon emissions.
- Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, coordinated with partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners. Through this program, USDA and partners are investing up to $1.5 billion toward 199 conservation projects that will help communities reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration, improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. The projects cover all 50 states.
- Incentivized efforts to shift from fossil-based energy to renewable energy. Over the past seven years, USDA has helped thousands of rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines by installing renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions, which will generate and save more than 10.4 billion kWh-enough energy to power more than 959,000 American homes annually.
- Financed over $1.7 billion to help rural electricity providers make environmental improvements of carbon-emitting power plants that will reduce emissions, bring significant cost savings, and improve the quality of life for those living and working in rural America since 2009.
- Entered into a unique partnership with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to voluntarily reduce the industry's methane emissions from dairy production and to increase the adoption of methane digesters. To date, USDA investments have supported more than 200 anaerobic digesters to help farm operations produce electricity from captured methane. Under the President's Climate Action Plan, USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the dairy industry have developed a Biogas Opportunities Roadmap (PDF, 1MB) and subsequent update (PDF, 3.5MB), which outline voluntary strategies to overcome barriers limiting further expansion and development of a robust biogas industry in the United States.
- Partnered with EPA to initiate the U.S. Food Waste Challenge - the first-ever national food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030 in an effort to reduce the amount of wasted food in landfills. Food waste is the single largest type of waste entering our landfills-it is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted. Reducing food waste results in significantly reduced emissions of landfill methane.
- Implemented a strategy to promote wood as a green building material. Wood, in the manufacturing stage, has between 1% and 25% of the embodied energy of construction materials such as aluminum, steel, concrete, and brick. USDA is leading the way in demonstrating the innovative uses of wood and other bio-based products that reduce emissions and increase carbon storage. In September 2015, USDA, in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, announced the winners of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition. The competition was held to support a resilient rural wood products industry, promote forest restoration and retention, and foster sustainability in the built environment. The two winning development teams were granted a combined $3 million in funding to support the development of tall wood demonstration projects in New York and Portland, Oregon.
Advancing Understanding of Climate Change and Its Implications for Agriculture and Forests
- Provided $656.1 million in funding to support climate change research by USDA scientists and partners at land-grant universities.
- Developed a comprehensive report on science-based methods for estimating greenhouse gas fluxes due to local agriculture and forest management. USDA tools such as COMET-Farm (agriculture management) and the Forest Vegetation Simulator (forest management) provide help for land owners to evaluate management options. These and other tools support a land manager's engagement in environmental markets, placing additional value on conservation practices.
- Initiated the GRACEnet (Greenhouse gas Reduction through Agricultural Carbon Enhancement network) research program to identify and develop agricultural practices that enhance carbon sequestration in soils. GRACEnet completed its five-year objectives and has resulted in a GHG measurement protocols book, several journal special issues, an ARS online GRACEnet data portal, and the emergence of other related USDA data networks such as Livestock GRACEnet.
- Helped found two international collaborations focused on climate change and greenhouse gases. The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases expands international collaboration on climate change research, and the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture addresses the challenges facing food security and agriculture under a changing climate.
- Improved methods for the agriculture and forestry sectors of the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, resulting in more comprehensive and more accurate annual inventories for national and international GHG reporting purposes.
- Advanced Big Data initiatives, including development of the Life Cycle Assessment Commons, an online repository for LCA datasets and a step toward standardizing LCA data for improved comparability and usefulness.
- Initiated the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) Network, a long-term study across significant agricultural landscapes of the US comparing a local "business as usual" to an ideal or aspirational management system to assess and quantify the environmental benefits and sustainability.
- Collected data to track how climate change is impacting resources. Through monitoring systems like the SNOw TELemetry (SNOTEL), SnoLITE and hydromet networks of 885 data collection stations, manual snow course measurements at 1,111 sites and the Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) of 221 stations, USDA is building the scientific basis to understand how the climate is changing.
- Developed educational courses on climate change for land managers, technicians and service providers. For example, the Forest Service hosts an online Climate Change Education Center, as well as a collection of over 100 video lectures on climate change topics through the digital Climate Change Resource Center.
- Worked strategically to document, map and preserve genetic differences found in forest and rangeland plant species. Studies have been completed or are underway for 15 grass species, 7 trees and shrubs, and 9 other plants to see how climate change is affecting plant genetics. USDA also maintains a National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, which houses genetic resources to maintain biological diversity.
- Released a new report, Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis (PDF, 8.3MB), that provides a national assessment of peer-reviewed scientific research on the impacts of drought on U.S. forests and rangelands. In addition to the detailed information included in the full report, it has been synthesized into region-specific fact sheets for working land managers.
- Starting in 2011, each National Forests and Grassland began using a 10-point scorecard to report accomplishments and plans for improvement on ten questions in four dimensions - organizational capacity, engagement, adaptation, and mitigation. The scorecards are designed to create a balanced approach to climate change that includes managing forests and grasslands to adapt to changing conditions, mitigating climate change, building partnerships across boundaries, and preparing Forest Service employees to understand and apply emerging science.
- Implemented cooperative projects on agricultural biomass energy with Colombia and Panama and implemented cooperative projects in Mexico, Costa Rica, Kenya and Vietnam under the Enhancing Capacity for Low-Emission Development Program.
- Released a report, Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System, that identifies climate change effects on global food security and examines the implications of these effects for the United States.
- Organized a continuing series of greenhouse gas modeling forums with EPA and Environment Canada to advance the state-of-the-art in modeling greenhouse gas emissions and opportunities for carbon sequestration in North American agriculture and forests.
- Partnered with multiple international research institutions in the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP), a framework to coordinate global and regional climate, agricultural, and trade models.
- Developed a comprehensive modeling platform for analyzing the economic impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector as well as the capacity of producers to adapt to changing climate conditions.