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Climate Change Adaptation

The effects of climate change on agriculture, forests, and rural communities are complex and far-reaching.  Already, producers and land managers across the country are experiencing these impacts in the form of shifting weather patterns and increasingly frequent and severe floods, droughts, and wildfire. These changes will additionally impact the ability of USDA to fulfill its mission.

An image referencing the climate adaptation cycle of awareness, assessment, planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

To address the long-term preparedness of USDA and to meet stakeholder needs in a changing climate, the Office of Energy and Environmental Policy (OEEP) works across USDA to ensure that the effects of climate change on working lands and rural communities are understood, and that climate adaptation is integrated into USDA programs, policies, and operations and based on the most up-to-date science.

CLIMATE ADAPTATION is the process of adjusting to avoid the expected or actual consequences of climate change. Climate adaptation at USDA is an iterative process of assessment, planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation (see figure).

Adaptation actions aim to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems to climate change and can include actions to reduce exposure and sensitivity to climate effects and increase adaptive capacity. Examples in agriculture and forestry can include:

  • Changes in farming and land management practices to build long-term resilience,
  • Strengthening disaster preparedness and recovery,
  • Increased access to useful and usable tools and technology, and
  • Outreach and education to build adaptive capacity.
Cover page for the 2021 USDA Action Plan for Climate Adaptation and Resilience, combine in field.

USDA’s Climate Adaptation Plan, released in October 2021, describes how USDA will integrate climate adaptation into its mission, programs, and operations. An update to its 2014 Adaptation Plan, this Plan identifies key vulnerabilities to the effects of climate change in USDA’s mission and establishes a framework for addressing these impacts across the Department.

USDA's Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaptation (DR 1070-001) affirms the necessity of integrating climate change adaptation into USDA’s mission, policies, programs, and operations, including through the periodic revision of a USDA Climate Change Adaptation Plan and preparation and implementation of adaptation plans by USDA Mission Areas, agencies, and staff offices.

Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC)
  • USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has developed new and expanded opportunities for producers to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Conservation Incentive Contracts and new Cover Crop Initiative.
  • FPAC agencies are working to administer relief to eligible livestock and crop producers impacted by wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, winter storms, and other disasters in 2020 and 2021, initially by leveraging existing program data from the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, Federal Crop Insurance, and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
  • Immediately following a disaster, producers can use the Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool to identify USDA programs that meet their needs.
  • FPAC agencies are taking a multi-pronged approach to help producers prepare and respond to drought conditions including through the Farm Service Agency’s disaster assistance programs, NRCS’s financial and technical assistance to support the adoption of drought-friendly farming practices, and increased flexibility in the Risk Management Agency’s (RMA) crop insurance programs and procedures.

Research, Education, and Economics (REE)

  • USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) supports a wide range of research to enable agriculture to adapt to the effects of climate change, including the identification and development of species with increased resilience to temperature, water, and other climate stressors.
  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded six projects totaling $9 million to foster and strengthen partnerships between USDA Climate Hubs and Cooperative Extension and co-develop and deliver climate adaptation solutions to communities.
  • The Economic Research Service (ERS) has leveraged the 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations and other resources to understand the impact of and responses to drought and water scarcity in agriculture.
  • The National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) monitors agricultural disasters in near real-time using remotely sensed data and geospatial techniques.

Natural Resources and Environment (NRE)

An image of a man using geospatial software on a pad.

USDA’s Climate Hubs link USDA’s research and program agencies in their regional delivery of timely and authoritative tools and information to agricultural producers and professionals. The Climate Hubs are an integral part of USDA’s Climate Adaptation Plan due to their cross-Departmental, collaborative model. The Hubs have carried out extensive climate vulnerability assessments and develop and maintain a collection of tools and resources to put ‘Adaptation in Action.’