U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack traveled to Denver on Monday to promote billions in new federal funds to help farmers and ranchers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to change climatic.
Following the announcement of his Partnerships for climate-smart commodities program earlier this year, the Department of Agriculture received applications for more than 450 proposed projects from agricultural producers and state and local governments. An initial $2.8 billion in grants will fund 70 of these projects across the country who seek to reduce agricultural emissions and encourage the adoption of more sustainable agricultural, livestock and forestry practices.
“It is important for us at the Department of Agriculture to find ways to partner with farmers, ranchers, growers and others, to create processes in which we learn to better adapt and mitigate. climate change,” Vilsack said during a roundtable with state officials and agricultural producers at Colorado State University’s Spur campus in north Denver.
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Among the projects selected is a $25 million proposal from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to expand the Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources initiative, which allows farmers and ranchers to evaluate their practices and market their products as more durable.
State officials hope to enroll 500 producers in the expanded STAR program. They will receive three years of technical and financial assistance to improve soil health and water retention on their farms and ranches. The results will help growers and researchers refine what works in Colorado’s dry, diverse climates and share their findings with their peers.
“We have a good adaptive learning process in place,” said Kristin Boysen, a drought and climate specialist with the state Department of Agriculture. “(We’re) going to do research, figure out what works, figure out what producers are able to implement. And then, through the peer-to-peer learning networks that we put in place, people will learn, and we will grow and see exponential adoption of these practices.
It’s hard for a farmer to be able to apply these things, so this will be a great program to help us.
– David Block, Colorado farmer
Colorado’s agricultural sector emitted approximately 10 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, or about 7% of the state’s total greenhouse gases, according to official estimates. Agricultural sources of greenhouse gases include livestock, which emit large amounts of methane as a result of digestion, and soils, which release nitrogen dioxide during the fertilization process and other management methods. cultures.
Through “climate-smart“, like reducing tillage or planting optimal cover crops, growers can reduce emissions and improve soil health, saving costs and increasing yields in the process. But the strategies that work in one climate may not work in another, and many farmers and ranchers are reluctant to experiment with such practices. Funding from the Climate-Smart Commodities program, Vilsack said, will help encourage and “de-risk” these practices. for attendees.
“We take on responsibilities like this as agriculture becomes more and more diverse – not just in technology, in crops, food, everything,” said David Block, whose family raises crops and cattle on the eastern plains of Colorado for four generations. “It’s hard for a farmer to be able to apply these things, so this will be a great program to help us.
Overall, USDA officials say 17 of the 70 projects funded through the program’s first round of grants will have an impact in Colorado. The Denver-based Western Sugar Cooperative, made up of 850 sugar beet growers from Colorado and several neighboring states, has received up to $6 million to study and improve the soil carbon sequestration potential in its growing area. . Other projects aim to promote more sustainable practices for cattle ranches and dairy farms.
The USDA will award a second round of grants later this year. Vilsack also touted the impact of the Democrats’ recently passed climate and clean energy bill, which includes nearly $20 billion in funding for agricultural conservation — a sum Vilsack called a “possibly the greatest commitment to conservation in the nation’s history, certainly since the Dust Bowl.”
“(It) will allow us to move well from pilots, where we know what works, to integrating them into our regular programming,” he said. “It’s just a remarkable opportunity here.”