Climate Change Affects U.S. Agriculture and Rural Communities
Climate change presents real threats to U.S. agricultural production, forest resources and rural economies. Producers and land managers across the country are experiencing these climate impacts on their operations through shifting weather patterns and increasingly frequent and severe storms, floods, drought and wildfire. These threats have significant implications not just for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, but for surrounding communities and all Americans.
Specific impacts across the U.S. include
Rising average temperatures – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the 10 warmest years on record have occurred between 2005 and 2020.
More severe weather and climate-related disaster events – The U.S. experienced 22 weather and climate events in 2020 – such as droughts, floods and hurricanes – where damages and losses totaled at least $1 billion. This is more than any other year since NOAA began tracking in 1980.
Extremes in precipitation – 2020 was unusually wet in the Southeast and extremely dry in the Southwest. From January 2020 through August 2021, the six states of the U.S. Southwest — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah— have experienced the lowest total precipitation and the third-highest daily average temperatures recorded since 1985.
More destructive wildfires – Wildfires burned nearly 10.3 million acres across the U.S. in 2020, the most on record in the 21 years reported by NOAA.
Across agricultural sectors and rural America, climate impacts contribute to an increase in invasive species and additional costs for weed and pest control, prevented or reduced plantings, decreased health in crops and livestock, production and associated income losses and damages to buildings, equipment and land.
USDA Resources and Tools
USDA offers a variety of resources and tools to support farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, partners and rural communities in making informed, science-based decisions to support climate change mitigation and build climate resilience.
USDA Climate Hubs
USDA’s Climate Hubs deliver science-based, region-specific information and technologies – in partnership with USDA agencies and partners – to enable climate-informed decision making, reduce agricultural risk and build resilience to climate change. Since 2014, the ten regional Climate Hubs have helped farmers, ranchers, forest and land managers and rural communities plan for and manage weather- and climate- related risks and vulnerabilities. The Climate Hubs translate climate science to action to ensure producers and land managers have useful and actionable information about climate change and its impacts to support adaptation, mitigation and resilience efforts.
Specifically, the Hubs provide:
- Tools, technologies, and resources for agricultural and natural resource managers to prepare for, respond to and recover from drought, heat stress, hurricanes, pests and other weather impacts.
- Adaptation Workbook: A flexible process to consider the potential effects of climate change and design land management and conservation actions to prepare for changing conditions.
- Grass-Cast: A grassland and forage productivity forecast for ranchers and rangeland managers.
- AgRisk Viewer: A new platform to access, analyze and visualize historical crop insurance loss data to inform risk management efforts.
- Regional assessments of risk and vulnerability and user-friendly information and data to support risk management and climate change response.
- Outreach, education, engagement and technical support for farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, extension and the public on science-based risk management and innovative ways to help lower barriers to adaptation, mitigation and resilience-building.
For more information on the Hubs, visit the USDA Climate Hubs webpage.
USDA offers a carbon and greenhouse gas accounting system, COMET-Farm, to help producers quantify their operation’s carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission reduction potentials based on multiple management scenarios. COMET-Farm estimates the carbon footprint for all or part of an agricultural operation and allows producers to evaluate a diversity of management decisions. No prior training is needed to use this online tool.
Similarly, USDA offers the COMET-Planner Tool to support carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas mitigation evaluations specific to conservation practices implemented through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Climate Change Resource Center
The U.S. Forest Service’s Climate Change Resource Center provides a suite of tools that are intended to help land managers incorporate climate change and carbon stewardship into their decision-making. Available tools range from specialized calculators to maps or models covering a variety of scales and geographical regions.
For more information on tools available through the Climate Change Resource Center, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/tools.
USDA Office of Energy and Environmental Policy
USDA’s Climate Change Program Office (CCPO) operates within the Office of Energy and Environmental Policy (OEEP) to coordinate agricultural, rural and forestry-related climate change program and policy issues across USDA. CCPO ensures that USDA is a source of objective, analytical assessments of the effects of climate change and proposed response strategies.
Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative
USDA is committed to partnering with agriculture, forestry and rural communities to develop climate solutions that strengthen rural America. On September 29, the Department announced a new initiative to finance the deployment of climate-smart farming and forestry practices to aid in the marketing of climate-smart agricultural commodities. Guided by science, USDA will support a set of pilot projects that provide incentives to implement climate smart conservation practices on working lands and to quantify and monitor the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits associated with those practices. The pilots could rely on the Commodity Credit Corporation’s specific power to aid in expansion or development of new and additional markets. The Department published a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public comment and input on design of this new initiative, specifically focusing on:
- The current state of climate-smart commodity markets,
- Systems for quantification,
- Options and criteria for evaluation,
- Use of information collected,
- Potential protocols,
- Options for review and verification and
- Inclusion of historically underserved communities.
Comments were due on or before 11:59 p.m. EST on November 1, 2021 via the Federal Register, Docket ID: USDA-2021-0010. Comments were encouraged from farmers and farmer organizations, commodity groups, livestock producer groups, environmental organizations, agriculture businesses and technology companies, environmental market organizations, renewable energy organizations, Tribal organizations and governments, organizations representing historically underrepresented producers, organizations representing historically underrepresented communities and private corporations. USDA is committed to equity in program delivery and explicitly requested input on how to best serve historically underrepresented producers and communities.
Insights gained through this process will inform development of a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) soliciting Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative project proposals that encourage the adoption of climate-smart practices and promote markets for climate-smart commodities. USDA plans to announce the NOFA this fall, with project proposals accepted in early 2022.
USDA Programs and Climate Solutions
Climate solutions are a priority for USDA. The Department is currently developing a comprehensive strategy centered on voluntary incentives that is inclusive for all agricultural producers, landowners and communities. This builds on the 90-Day Progress Report on Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry (PDF, 561 KB) that was published in May 2021. Additionally, USDA’s Action Plan for Climate Adaptation and Resilience (PDF, 813 KB), published on October 7, 2021, outlines action items to address the most significant climate risks to agriculture, forestry and rural communities.
On September 29, Secretary Vilsack delivered a speech outlining a comprehensive set of investments to address challenges facing producers and agriculture, including climate change. You may watch his live remarks here.
Since January 2021, USDA has announced a suite of updates to the Department’s programs and services to support farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, partners and rural communities in combatting the impacts of climate change. These include:
Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry
- A 90-Day Progress Report on a Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Strategy, which provides recommendations and next steps to support the Department in implementing climate solutions in ways that build strong communities, fair markets, and are inclusive of all Tribes and stakeholders.
- The Action Plan for Climate Adaptation and Resilience (PDF, 813 KB) (USDA’s Adaptation Plan) describes how USDA will integrate climate adaptation into its mission, programs, operations and management. The USDA Climate Hubs will continue to play a leading role across USDA to put ‘Adaptation in Action’ by connecting science and practice and through tailored outreach activities.
- $10 million invested in NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to support climate-smart conservation practices in 10 target states in fiscal year 2021, with lessons learned informing a national rollout planned for fiscal year 2022.
- A suite of updates to the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program to bolster program effectiveness and target climate impacts. Updates include higher payment rates, new incentives, a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation, and the CRP Climate Change Mitigation Assessment Initiative to quantify the program’s climate benefits.
- $5 per acre premium support for agricultural producers who insured their spring crop with most insurance policies and planted a qualifying cover crop during the 2021 crop year through the Risk Management Agency’s Pandemic Cover Crop Program.
- $330 million invested in 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships to address climate change, improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Additionally, $75 million invested in RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements focused on climate-smart agriculture and forestry and other conservation priorities as well as improving access for historically underserved producers.
- $15 million invested to support the development of new tools, approaches, practices and technologies to further natural resource conservation with a focus on climate-smart strategies through the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants program, and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. These projects will increase the adoption of new approaches and technologies to help agricultural producers mitigate the effects of climate change, increase the resilience of their operations and boost soil health.
- $285 million invested to support the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in improving national forest and grassland infrastructure through the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund.
- $218 million invested to fund Great American Outdoors Act projects that conserve critical forest and wetland habitat, support rural economic recovery and increase public access to national forests and grasslands.
- $15 million invested in USFS grants to develop and expand the use of wood products, strengthen emerging wood energy markets and protect community forests.
Research and Education
- $10 million invested through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in a new program area priority called, “Extension, Education, and USDA Climate Hub Partnerships.” Funds support training for the next generation of agriculturalists and foresters to incorporate climate change research into their management practices.
- $50 million invested for Racial Justice and Equity Conservation Cooperative Agreements that support historically underserved farmers and ranchers in implementation of climate-smart agriculture and forestry conservation practices.
Biofuels and Renewable Energy
- $26 million invested in biofuel infrastructure to expand availability of higher-blend renewable fuels in 23 states and increase the availability of biofuels by 822 million gallons annually through the Rural Development (RD) Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program.
- $464 million invested in RD’s Rural Energy for America Program and Electric Loan Program to support climate-smart solutions that lower energy costs in 48 states and Puerto Rico.