Creating Modern Solutions for Environmental Challenges
- Press Release: Vilsack Outlines Vision for Agricultural Solutions to Environmental Challenges (June 5, 2013)
- Remarks as Prepared: Agriculture Secretary Outlines Vision for Agricultural Solutions to Environmental Challenges in Speech to the National Press Club (June 5, 2013)
Today, American agriculture is tremendously productive, thanks to the innovation embraced by our farmers and ranchers. Their productivity empowers America to lead the way in feeding a growing world population, enables us to maintain an agricultural trade surplus, and allows us to enjoy an affordable, diverse, homegrown food supply.
In recent years, we have seen new environmental threats emerge. Weather events that threaten agriculture are more intense, and more common - and this trend is projected to continue. At USDA, we know that farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of threat mitigation and adaptation, just as they have been for generations. And as we have done for 151 years, USDA will be there to help create modern solutions to these emerging threats.
USDA has already taken steps to begin preparing for new environmental threats:
- USDA released two assessments that project climate impacts over the coming years. The first is focused on agricultural production (PDF, 11.8MB) - and the second on America's forests (PDF, 5.8MB).
- As part of the Obama Administration's focus on planning for climate impacts, USDA also worked with our individual agencies to develop a Climate Adaptation Plan.
- USDA has worked with university partners to invest nearly $120 million in climate adaptation research.
On June 5, Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined new steps that USDA will take to help create modern climate solutions:
Regional Climate Hubs
USDA will establish seven "Regional Climate Hubs" to work in partnership with producers and foresters. Working with other agencies, the hubs will serve as a source of regional data and interpretation of climate change forecasts for hazard and adaptation planning for agriculture and natural resource management. The seven regional hubs will be established for the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Northern Plains, Southern Plains, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest.
New Tools for Soil Carbon
USDA released the "Carbon Management and Evaluation Tool," also known as COMET-FARM, a free online tool that will help producers calculate how much carbon their land's soil and vegetation can remove from the atmosphere. COMET-FARM is applicable to all agricultural lands in the lower 48 states. The tool is available for use at www.comet-farm.com.
USDA also released data collected under the Rapid Assessment of U.S. Soil Carbon, which will be especially useful for technical experts. Over the course of three years, NRCS collected almost 145,000 samples from 6,000 randomly selected locations - and this data is now available for researchers and experts. Access the RaCA data and resources at http://soils.usda.gov/survey/raca/index.html.
Uniform, Science-Based Cover Crop Guidance
We know that in the past, some producers have encountered conflicting cover crop management issues when working with multiple USDA agencies. Natural Resources Conservation Service, Risk Management Agency and Farm Service Agency worked together this spring to establish common, science-based guidance on when cover crops should be terminated. The agencies engaged stakeholders, partner universities, and the crop insurance industry to figure out how to make cover crop guidelines straightforward and sensible.
USDA has created new guidance for Agencies dealing with cover crops, using a new model based on local climate data, tillage management and soil information to account for daily crop growth and use of soil moisture. With this information, experts determined the latest possible time to terminate a cover crop to minimize risk to the cash crop yield. RMA, NRCS and FSA will all uniformly refer producers to these guidelines, and will use them to administer programs.