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Climate Change

Climate change represents a significant challenge to 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 USDA Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change. The seven regional Climate Hubs and three sub-hubs serve as a source of regional data and information for hazard and adaptation planning in the agriculture and forest sectors. They address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts, translating science and research into information for land managers.
  • Improved efficiency in crop insurance services by introducing new online tools and data that streamline the response to climate change impacts on crop production.
  • Established new guidance on forest planning that includes consideration of the impacts of climate change. Eleven national forest management plans are currently being revised.
  • Increased the adoption of conservation practices that increase resilience to climate variability. For example, the acreage of cover crops, which can improve soil quality and increase drought resilience, has increased by 350% from 2008 to 2012.
  • In 2013 alone, restored 2.5 million acres of national forests and grasslands to help make them more resilient and to maintain function, productivity, and adaptive capacity. Additional restoration efforts reduced hazardous fuels and the threat of wildfire on more than 14 million acres between 2009 and 2013.
  • Supported private forest landowners in developing plans for sustainable management and increased resilience. As of 2012, Forest Stewardship Plans cover more than 21 million acres of non-industrial private forest land.
  • Helped rural communities maintain local watersheds and reduce the impacts of extreme precipitation and drought by rejuvenating flood control dams. During Hurricane Irene, these restored small watershed dams reduced flood damages to agricultural producers and local communities by about $40 million.

Leading Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Increase Carbon Sequestration

  • Used conservation practices to reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon sequestration. Between 2010 and 2012, annual GHG mitigation benefits associated with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service's conservation programs and assistance totaled over 11 million tons CO2e. This is equivalent to taking over two million cars of the road, or avoiding using more than one trillion gallons of gas.
  • Incentivized efforts to shift from fossil-based energy to renewable energy. Over the past five years, USDA investments have 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 7.5 billion kWh – enough energy to power 650,000 American homes annually. USDA also made $250 million in loans available to help rural home owners make energy efficiency upgrades.
  • 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 93 anaerobic digesters to help farm operations produce electricity from captured methane. Under the President's Climate Action Plan, USDA and the dairy industry have developed a Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, which outlines 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. Food waste is the single largest type of waste entering our landfills-- it's 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. USDA also launched a $1 million prize competition to help spur increased sustainability in construction and encourage the sourcing of building materials from rural domestic manufacturers and domestic, sustainably-managed forests.
  • Accelerated technology transfer and adoption of conservation management that results in reduced GHG emissions. In 2011 NRCS awarded more than $7.4 million through nine Conservation Innovation Grants that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon, and demonstrate transactions in emerging carbon markets. In FY 2013, NRCS provided $10 million in EQIP funding distributed across 13 states to enable recipients of the greenhouse gas CIGs to further engage producers.

Advancing Understanding of Climate Change and Its Implications for Agriculture and Forests

  • 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 GHG decision support to help land owners evaluate management options. These and other tools support a land manager's engagement in environmental markets, placing additional value on conservation practices.
  • Partnered on research. USDA 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. USDA helped found the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases to expand international collaboration on climate change research. USDA funds university research, including awarding $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.
  • Developed the USDA National GHG Inventory Report using data from 1990 (4th edition due out in October 2014), tracking changes in GHG emissions and carbon sequestration in the agriculture and forestry sectors for nearly a quarter century.
  • Collected important data to track how climate change is impacting resources. Through monitoring systems like the SNOw TELemetry (SNOTEL) network of 885 data collection stations and the Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) of 193 stations, USDA is building the scientific basis to understand how the climate is changing. Through the Rapid Assessment of Soil Carbon (RACa; collecting data from over 6000 sites) and the National Resources Inventory (NRI; repeat data collection at 800,000 sample sites), USDA adds to our understanding of adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.
  • Engaged in education and outreach. NRCS and FS have developed climate change courses for land managers, technicians and service providers, and NIFA has helped to strategize improved dissemination of climate change information through extension networks. NRCS currently offers six courses on climate change. 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. The Resource Center courses and videos were viewed over 9,000 times in 2013 alone.
  • Led efforts to create scientific inputs to the recently released National Climate Assessment. Effects of Climatic Variability and Change on Forest Ecosystems: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the U.S. Forest Sector is an assessment of current and likely future conditions of forest resources in the U.S. Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation outlines the risks and vulnerabilities of U.S. agriculture to climate change, as well as strategies for adaptation.
  • Conserved genetic diversity. Climate change poses threats to biodiversity. USDA has 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 is affecting plant genetics. USDA ARS also maintains a National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, which houses genetic resources to maintain biological diversity. This information is important to understanding ecosystem dynamics and adaptation.