On the heels of his agency’s release of a comprehensive report on climate change and its effects on U.S. agricultural production, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said yesterday that America’s farmers and ranchers are a critical part of the solution and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be there to help them step up to the plate.
As I discussed here, USDA made news earlier this month with a sobering message: climate change is real, climate change is the result of human action, and climate change poses unprecedented challenges to U.S. agriculture.
Yesterday, Secretary Vilsack followed up that message with both a call to action and a promise to focus aggressively on climate change:
“We’re going to be very aggressive in this effort because we understand and appreciate, after the floods of 2011 and the drought of 2012, that folks need this assistance now…And by doing this, by taking these actions, we can help to mitigate and help to manage risks.”
Amongst other things, the agency plans to ramp up its efforts to encourage sustainable farming practices, both to help farmers be more resilient to climate impacts and to mitigate climate change by reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. This comes as very welcome news to anyone who cares about reducing climate pollution and ensuring the stability, resilience and health of our agricultural system.
As my colleague Claire discusses in an upcoming paper on the impacts of a changing climate on U.S. agriculture, scientific experts, including leading agronomic organizations and USDA researchers, expect climate change to result in more frequent droughts, more intense precipitation events, greater water requirements for growing crops, and more significant pest problems for American farmers. Some of the areas that can expect to be hit hardest by climate change are also some of the nation’s most agriculturally productive.
Luckily, the solution lies in practices that solve immediate environmental problems—for example, reducing soil erosion—while at the same time mitigating climate change through greater carbon sequestration and increasing farmers’ incomes both in the near and long term.
It’s not often you find such a triple threat solution to such a serious and far-reaching threat.
Specifically, USDA points to best management practices such as conservation tillage, cover cropping and greater crop diversification, as well as more efficient irrigation as a key strategy to adapt to the intense rainfall and severe drought episodes that are expected to accompany climate change. In his speech, Secretary Vilsack said his agency will take steps to encourage multi-cropping, such as planting two types of crops in an area, planting cover crops between growing seasons and integrating livestock into cropping systems.
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