Policy Update: USDA Releases Climate-Smart Ag and Forestry Strategy Progress Report - American Farmland Trust

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Policy Update: USDA Releases Climate-Smart Ag and Forestry Strategy Progress Report

On Thursday, May 20, USDA released a 90-day Progress Report on its new Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Strategy, as directed by President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. In developing this climate strategy, USDA hosted stakeholder meetings and collected over 2,700 comments. The Progress Report outlined preliminary takeaways from stakeholder outreach, as well as a handful of general recommendations. USDA is still working to synthesize comments and other feedback, which will help to guide strategy development and implementation. In a presentation to stakeholders, the Administration noted that this strategy document marks the beginning of the process, rather than the end, and that they will be seeking additional input and providing more details in the months ahead.

AFT submitted comments on the development of the Strategy on April 29th, available here. We were very pleased to see many of our recommendations reflected in the report, especially those regarding increased research into soil carbon quantification, reducing barriers to participation especially for socially disadvantaged producers, increased technical assistance, prioritizing funding for certain practices in existing conservation programs, and more. The report also acknowledges the role of ACEP, which includes funding for farmland protection, as part of the strategy. It should be noted that the document does not speak to the potential of a “carbon bank” within USDA, a subject that has drawn considerable attention.

Preliminary takeaways from outreach indicated that the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry (CSAF) Strategy should:

  • Integrate climate, environmental, equity, and justice goals.
  • Account for co-benefits of CSAF practices beyond reducing GHGs, including protecting habitat, improving air, water, and soil quality, and building resilience.
  • Remain attentive to potential adverse impacts of a CSAF strategy, particularly on already burdened communities, and to engage directly with community members.
  • Avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and be place-based, flexible, and locally led.
  • Recognize the effectiveness but oversubscription of USDA’s existing programs and initiatives and recognize the need for increasing investment in or modifying these programs and providing adequate technical assistance.

Recommendations include:

  1. Prepare USDA to quantify, track, and report the benefits of CSAF activities:
    • Identify promising CSAF practices.
    • Develop or enhance tools to assist farmers, ranchers, and foresters in quantifying benefits of CSAF practices.
    • Track implementation and quantify benefits of CSAF practices at the national scale.
    • Support research and data collection for quantification, monitoring, and verification of carbon benefits.
  2. Develop a CSAF strategy that works for all farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and communities:
    • Strengthen consultation and engagement with Tribes and socially disadvantaged communities and producers
    • Identify opportunities for broader inclusivity within USDA programs
    • Remove barriers to participation and adoption
    • Recognize and include early adopters
    • Target education and outreach
    • Design the CSAF strategy to advance environmental justice
  3. Leverage existing USDA programs to support CSAF strategies:
    • Identify and prioritize climate risks, adaptation opportunities, and carbon benefits of USDA programs
    • Keep forests as forests while building climate resilience through forest conservation programs
    • Reduce food loss and waste
    • Invest in infrastructure improvements that can facilitate the implementation of CSAF practices
    • Support and help finance renewable energy and energy efficient activities
    • Help build community resilience to climate change
  4. Strengthen education, training, and technical assistance for CSAF practices:
    • Strengthen and increase technical assistance
    • Build on and expand existing education and outreach efforts
    • Invest in and strengthen the role of the Climate Hubs
  5. Support new and better markets for agriculture and forestry products generated through CSAF practices:
    • Support producer participation in voluntary carbon markets
    • Support the role of agriculture in decarbonizing the transportation sector
    • Support renewable energy development in rural America
    • Support deployment and development of methane digesters, biogas, and biobased products
    • Support new markets for wood products
  6. Develop a forest and wildfire resilience strategy:
    • Increase the rate of fuels reduction to decrease the risk of severe wildfires
    • Increase the rate of reforestation, especially after disturbances
    • Support applied forest research to inform climate mitigation and adaptation
    • Ensure equitable distribution of services regarding wildfire mitigation and response
  7. Improve research: 
    • Support landscape-scale conservation and management
    • Evaluate potential climate benefits of new technologies
    • Increase our understanding of climate change and variability, its effects of agriculture and forests, and ways to build adaptation and resilience
    • Support research into human dimensions and economic effects of climate change for agricultural and forest-dependent communities
    • Target research on technologies with potential for mitigating U.S. agricultural GHG emissions
About the Author
Emily Liss

Federal Policy Associate

eliss@farmland.org

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