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Betting smart money on climate solutions

Can agriculture truly make a difference in the changing climate? USDA is betting billions of dollars to find out.

In a big-ticket attempt to encourage farming practices that lower greenhouse gas emissions and sequester soil carbon, some $3.5 billion is pouring into pilot projects through the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. The first funding recipients were revealed on Sept. 14, what U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vil­sack described as “a really import­ant day for American agriculture.” When fully implemented, the projects are expected to reach more than 50,000 farmers in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico and encompass as many as 25 million acres.

The earmarked funding is triple the amount originally publicized when the program was pitched in February. After more than 450 pro­posals rolled in to claim their piece of the pie, USDA upped the ante by pulling additional funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation. The CCC is the entity in charge of farm bill payme nts, among other agricultural support actions, but Vilsack assured the public that “significant resources” are left in the account to fully fund all of its obligations.

Still, even with the increased capital, only 70 grants were awarded in what turned out to be a highly competitive selection process—undoubtedly influenced by political considerations and the need to strike a balance among commodities and geographies. Recipients of a second funding pool will be announced later this year.

This voluntary approach is certainly more palatable to farmers than mandatory climate-change regulations. And it could be lucrative if the projects play out as intended. Many proposals include direct payments and other finan­cial assistance for producers who use practices such as no-till, cover crops and nutrient management.

Some projects will also focus on building markets for agricul­tural products that result from climate-smart practices—markets that don’t exist today. Still others will be looking for effective ways to quantify and verify greenhouse gas and carbon sequestration benefits. Viable methods to capture such analytics are needed. There are currently no universal standards to truly measure agriculture’s impact in mitigating climate change.

Farmers in MFA territory should have ample opportunities to get involved in Climate-Smart Com­modities projects. Missouri will benefit from at least 25 pilots, some of which span multiple states and regions. These opportunities include everything from traditional row-crop and livestock production to newer endeavors such as grow­ing industrial hemp and planting camelina, an oilseed plant in the mustard family, as part of a rota­tional or cover crop system.

The University of Missouri is leading one of the funded projects, “Scaling-Up Climate-Smart Practices for Crops, Livestock and Agrofor­estry,” which is expected to involve up to 3,000 farmers over a five-year period. MFA Incorporated is part of this collaborative effort along with Missouri’s commodity organizations and other entities.

MFA and several partnering organizations also submitted a pro­posal that would have incentivized growers to produce climate-smart grain. While the project was among the hundreds that were not selected, MFA will assuredly be involved in assisting producers who participate in other programs that were funded. After all, MFA has been a leader in promoting climate-friendly farming through our precision agriculture programs, consulting services and conservation specialists.

In more good news for producers, USDA says they can continue to take advantage of programs offered by the Natural Resources Conserva­tion Service while participating in Climate-Smart Commodities proj­ects. In fact, early adopters—those who are already using some of these practices—are eligible and encour­aged to get involved.

Details are not yet available on how and when farmers can start enrolling in and benefiting from the proposed programs. USDA says it will be actively working with the funded partners to get the projects underway. MFA personnel will stay informed on the progress and help make producers aware of opportu­nities available in our trade territory.

A full list of funded projects is at climate-smart-commodities/projects. Browse through the offerings and see what might fit your operation. The money is real, and there’s a lot of it to go around. Go get your share.

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