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Climate Change

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.
  • 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. Currently, 20 national forest management plans are currently being revised.
  • Reduced hazardous fuels on 1.7 million acres in the wildland-urban interface, sustained or restored watershed conditions on 2.9 million acres and resulted in 2.8 billion board feet of timber volume sold in 2014.
  • Helped rural communities maintain local watersheds and reduce the impacts of extreme precipitation and drought by rejuvenating flood control dams. With the fiscal year 2014 appropriation of $262 million, USDA funded the rehabilitation of 119 watershed structures nationwide, benefiting 67,000 people.

Leading Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Increase Carbon Sequestration

  • Used conservation practices to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by over 360 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.
  • Partnered to advance markets for greenhouse gasses on working lands. 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 funding to develop the methodology needed to quantify carbon storage resulting from the avoided conversion of grasslands. In November 2014, Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, purchased almost 40,000 tons of greenhouse gasses from ranchers to offset the company’s carbon emissions.
  • Incentivized efforts to shift from fossil-based energy to renewable energy. Over the past six 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 9.4 billion kWh- enough energy to power 820,000 American homes annually.
  • 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 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.
    1. Launched the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition in 2014, a $2 million prize competition in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and Binational Softwood Lumber Council to support a resilient rural wood products industry, promote forest restoration and retention, and foster sustainability in the built environment.

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

  • Provided $610.9 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 land owners 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.
  • Helped found the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases to expand international collaboration on climate change research.
  • 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.
  • 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.