Co-op News, Energy & Environment

USDA Offers New Tools to Ease Risks

By Cathy Cash | ECT Staff Writer Published: June 12th, 2013

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced immediate steps to help farmers and ranchers on a regional basis deal with extreme weather patterns, drought, invasive species, wildfires and other risks.

USDA offers steps to mitigate extreme weather that can lead to drought, wildfires. (Photo By: Thinkstock)

USDA offers steps to mitigate extreme weather that can lead to drought, wildfires. (Photo By: Thinkstock)

“We know that developing modern solutions to a changing climate requires a doubling down on collaboration—between farmers, governments, researchers and industry,” Vilsack said in a June 5 address at the National Press Club in Washington. “This is not a single, one-size-fits-all problem. We need a targeted approach geared to the particular challenge faced by each region.”

Vilsack outlined a three-pronged approach for partnerships and strategies with landowners, farmers and ranchers that will involve markets, conservation and new crop methods.

USDA is creating “Regional Climate Hubs” to serve as “science-based risk management” extension centers to better coordinate agency assets specific to a region’s vulnerabilities. “Practically, the hubs will deal out advice to farmers and forest owners on ways to reduce risks and manage change,” Vilsack said.

Should competitive markets form for carbon sequestration and water protection, “these regional hubs will play a useful role,” he said.

The department is also rolling out an online tool dubbed the “Carbon Management and Evaluation Tool” or “COMET-Farm,” that will allow access to the USDA’s extensive database on soil carbon. Farmers and ranchers can use the new tool to determine the best conservation practices to increase soil carbon and decrease emissions and how land management decisions impact energy use and carbon emissions.

Improved soil is more resilient to drought and extreme weather and can absorb carbon stocks and eventually “serve as a gateway for future efforts to help producers participate in voluntary carbon markets,” Vilsack said.

USDA further has come out with new cover crop guidance to keep farmers in compliance with agency rules while using local climate data to maximize the cover crop’s carbon sequestration benefits without harming cash crop yields.

Vilsack said the department is implementing these strategies immediately and no legislation is required for it to do so.

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