In the spring of 2015, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that his agency would engage in a “comprehensive set of voluntary programs and initiatives” to reduce greenhouse gases and sequester carbon in American soil. One year later, Vilsack announces that program, titled “Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry,” is receiving a $72.3 million shot in the arm.

“American farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners are global leaders in conserving rural America's natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," he says. "With today's announcements, USDA is providing the necessary tools and resources called for under the President's Climate Action Plan so producers and landowners can successfully create economic opportunity and provide the food, fiber and energy needs of a growing global population.”

The program sits on 10 building blocks that include:

  • Soil Health
  • Nitrogen Stewardship
  • Livestock Partnerships
  • Conservation of Sensitive Lands
  • Grazing and Pasture Lands
  • Private Forest Growth and Retention
  • Stewardship of Federal Forests
  • Promotion of Wood Products
  • Urban Forests
  • Energy Generation and Efficiency

USDA says any actions taken through the initiative will be voluntary and incentive-based, designed to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers, and measured to evaluate progress. Ultimately, the agency wants to offset the equivalent emissions of 11 million homes or 25 million cars by the year 2025 through a combination of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon sequestered in U.S. soils and forests.

USDA also highlighted farmers who are already engaged in outstanding conservation practices, including Indiana farmer Jamie Scott. JA Scott farms incorporates various conservation practices on their operation, including 100% no-till, nutrient management and cover crops.

“I am encouraged that these practices can remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil,” Scott says. “We have found that these benefits outweigh the added expense of labor and cover crop seeds.”

Scott opened a side business for cover crops and now serves more than 400 farmers in northern Indiana and southern Michigan – supplying more than 100,000 nearby acres with cover crop seed.

The $72.3 million investment is in addition to existing funding for programs like the Environmental Quality Initiatives Program (EQIP), Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

Bringing ag sustainability to scale will require “collaboration, not confrontation,” according to Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“Working across public-private sector lines, through a collaborative approach, and with the entire ag supply chain is the only way to bring sustainability to scale while protecting farmers’ livelihoods,” she says.

Click here for a fact sheet with additional information on “Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry.”