Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

The USDA Invests $1 Billion to Support Producers to Transition to Climate-Smart Agricultural and Forestry Practices

by CRARS staff member Sheryl Karas MA

farmers shaking hands

On February 7, 2022, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created a program called Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities(opens in new window) which is designed to help U.S. farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners adopt climate-smart practices and be able to successfully market what they produce. The intention is to create pilot program partnerships that will provide technical and financial assistance to individual producers, provide cost-effective ways to measure and verify the greenhouse benefits of the practices used, and create and expand market opportunities.

Climate-smart practices are defined as those that reduce greenhouse gasses and/or increase carbon sequestration. The USDA lists a variety of potential choices including many regenerative agriculture practices such as

  • Cover crops
  • Low-till or no-till
  • Nutrient management
  • Feed management to reduce enteric emissions
  • Buffers, wetland and grassland management, and tree planting on working lands
  • Planting for high carbon sequestration rate
  • Prescribed grazing
  • Legume interseeding
  • Soil amendments, like biochar

However, the practices are not limited to those on the list, and they all provide additional benefits that will improve soil health and provide other ecosystem services.

The announcement sent a ripple of excitement through sectors of the agricultural community. The American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, National Milk Producers Federation, and American Soybean Association all issued statements(opens in new window) applauding the USDA’s efforts.

For the regenerative agriculture community, this announcement came as a true acknowledgement of the work that has already been done to show that this choice is viable. Dr. Cindy Daley, director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems at Chico State, shared the following views with Neesa Sonoquie at Chico State Today(opens in new window)

Climate change is here: longer and deeper droughts and warmer temperatures are indicators that the time is now and we need to do our part. Reducing our emissions and shifting to a carbon-smart production paradigm will place agriculture in the climate solution category, all while producing nutritious food for humanity. . . . With some changes in the way we think and practice, we become a central part of the solution. The data is overwhelming and more than sufficient for the United States Department of Agriculture/ Natural Resources Conservation Service and California Department of Food and Agriculture to invest significant funding to support grower transition. 

This support is essential because the biggest obstacles to the adoption of regenerative agriculture have been fear of change and insufficient financial resources to be able to take the risk. Conventional farmers are often faced with changing almost everything they know about farming. While there is a significant and growing body of evidence showing that regenerative practices can have tremendous benefits not only in climate change mitigation but in improved profitability for the producer as their soil regains fertility and resiliency, it can take 3-5 high risk years of trial and error and upfront expenses for that profitability to be seen. Many producers can’t afford to take that risk and would need substantial education and technical assistance to succeed, especially since they may also need to develop additional ways to market their climate-smart products.

That’s exactly what the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program is designed to address. Through this new program, the USDA will finance partnerships that create pilot projects lasting one to five years with the opportunity to add an additional 1-2 years if needed. These projects will provide technical and financial assistance to individual producers who voluntarily choose to implement climate-smart practices on their working lands. Making this program even more attractive is that each pilot project is required to create avenues for a wide cross-section of producers, including small and historically underserved populations and early adopters, to be able to participate.

It's what the regenerative agriculture movement has been hoping for, and we look forward to seeing where it leads.