US Secretary of Agriculture in Missouri appearance launches new $1 billion ‘climate-smart’ grant program | Politics

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By Grace Zokovitch St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, during a visit to the capital on Monday, announced the rollout of a new federal grant program aimed at tackling climate change while creating new economic opportunities for farmers.

Under the new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program, the USDA will provide $1 billion in grants to support producers using climate-smart agricultural methods, monitoring and evaluating these methods, and marketing the products , Vilsack said during an appearance at Lincoln University.

Proposals can include a wide range of climate-smart practices, such as cover cropping, a widely practiced method of planting crops between growing seasons to maintain soil quality, and carbon sequestration, using natural or man-made methods to capture and store carbon dioxide, he said. .

“In practice, this might look like, for example, a group of smallholder farmers working with a non-profit organization to implement and quantify climate-smart practices in partnership with a retailer or…a project with a partner organization of farmers working with universities to test innovative approaches to monitor and verify climate benefits and to help with commercialization,” Vilsack said.

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The first deadline for large-scale project proposals, targeting $5 million to $100 million, is April 8. The second funding deadline for smaller projects, especially innovative ones, targeting between $250,000 and $5 million, is May 27.

“There is probably no group of Americans who understand and see (climate change) more than our farmers, ranchers and producers,” Vilsack said.

The program, he said, is intended to be an opportunity to test many climate-smart strategies more widely, providing more evidence on which methods are effective and cost-effective.

President Joe Biden’s administration, he said, is seeking to integrate climate strategies into the agriculture sector that are “voluntary and incentivized,” supporting farms through climate challenges and helping to harness some of the opportunities of the changing landscape.

Part of the Climate-Smart Commodities program is to exploit an economic opportunity, Vilsack said, by responding to a shift in market demand.

“We know that consumers and retailers here at home have an interest in buying products produced using climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices,” Vilsack said. “We know that global markets are beginning to increasingly value climate-smart agriculture and forestry products.

Vilsack spoke of the potential for a “climate-smart” label on food, which could present the kind of economic opportunity for a producer that an “organic” label offers today.

The new program can help set the standard for what constitutes a climate-smart product, Vilsack said.

Climate-smart practices can also help producers diversify their sources of income, creating more stable and flexible incomes, Vilsack said.

On 89.6% of US farms, the majority of the owner’s income does not come from the farm, Vilsack said.

“That means these farm families have to have some off-farm income – maybe one job, maybe two jobs or three jobs – to be able to afford to keep farming, whatever they want to do, whatever they want to do. they like to do,” Vilsack said.

Revenue streams can come from opportunities such as the sale of bio-waste as fuel, or from savings through more sustainable and less costly practices, or from private market incentives such as carbon credit schemes.

The pandemic, supply chain issues and soaring inflation, Vilsack said, further illustrated the precarious nature of many farms’ incomes.

On Monday, Republicans were critical, saying the administration was failing to address key agricultural sector concerns.

In a statement, the Republican National Committee said Missourians are concerned about rising farm prices and regulations, not “Tom Vilsack’s attempts to sell the Biden administration’s sweeping climate agenda that will hurt farmers across the country.” heart of the country”.

Vilsack said while the new program does not directly address inflation issues, it is designed to improve farm income to enable farmers to better manage economic uncertainty.

The impact of inflation should subside “over a period of time,” Vilsack said, as the supply chain recalibrates.

Eligible applicants for the program range from “farmer groups to counties and cities, state and tribal governments, small businesses and non-profit organizations, to public and private institutions of higher education.”

One of the main goals of the program, Vilsack emphasized, is equity and inclusion of underserved producers, small farms and early adopters of climate-smart strategies.

Vilsack cited a recent $75 million investment in the American Rescue Plan Act to connect underserved producers to USDA grants and programs and said the department is working to reach people through community organizations, but recognized the difficulty of ensuring inclusion.

The venue for the announcement, a historically black land-grant university focused on agriculture and food research, also spoke about the focus on equity. University leaders and Vilsack have cited Lincoln University as a venue for addressing equity in agriculture and innovative climate solutions.

That program, Vilsack said, is meant to work alongside many others in the administration’s agenda, referencing the Growing Climate Solutions Act passed by the U.S. Senate and existing conservation programs in the Farm Bill.

Grace Zokovich

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