NSAC Recommends USDA Actions to Address Climate Change through Farm Bill Conservation Program Implementation

Washington, DC – On the one-year anniversary of the President's Climate Action Plan, the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition (NSAC) announces the availability of a document that articulates principles and recommendations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to consider as it implements conservation programs under the 2014 Farm Bill that address the nexus between climate change and agriculture.

"Farmers and ranchers have unique climate change solutions to offer," said Jeff Schahczenski of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, based in Montana. "Changes in agricultural practices can help farmers and ranchers not only adapt to the consequences of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also mitigate them."

In particular, low external input, biologically diverse agricultural systems, including certified organic agriculture and crop-livestock integrated farming systems, play an important role in addressing climate change. In addition to their ability to reduce GHG emissions and sequester carbon, these complex systems produce numerous co-benefits that will help farmers build resilient and viable systems of production.

"We cannot solve the problem of climate change without engaging farmers and ranchers," added Traci Bruckner with the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs. "We need to reorient our farm bill programs to focus support to those farmers and ranchers looking to build more resiliency into their enterprises."

The NSAC document is based on a set of principles for addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation through NRCS conservation programs, and includes specific recommendations for actions NRCS can take to integrate these principles with conservation program development and delivery. USDA has launched a climate change initiative, which includes new Regional Climate Hubs, science-based guidelines for cover crop management, among other new tools and programs. NSAC urges USDA to also look to existing solutions that can be achieved through farm bill program implementation.

These include:

Integrating climate and energy issues into conservation planning by incorporating a climate adaptation and mitigation component that specifically addresses on-farm benefits, including energy savings;
Updating the Conservation Practice Standard GHG Ranking Tool to reflect the full scope of climate benefits that a practice offers by assessing both adaptation and mitigation benefits; and
Prioritizing enrollment in the new easement program and targeted conservation program for those projects that provide the greatest climate benefits, both in terms of carbon sequestration and avoided transportation- and development-related GHG emissions.
"NRCS programs help farmers prevent the degradation of critical natural resources, such as soil, water, air quality, and wildlife," noted Mark Schonbeck of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. "Surely, in this day and age, our climate rates as a most critical natural resource, one that merits NRCS assistance to those who produce our food and whose capacity to do so depends on a benign and stable future climate."

NRCS is currently writing program rules that address the changes to conservation programs directed by the 2014 Farm Bill. The agency says they are likely to release the rules by late summer.

"President Obama has made it clear that the agencies have a role to play in facilitating adaptation to climate change across economic sectors, including agriculture," said Sophia Kruszewski, NSAC Policy Specialist, "and NRCS is at the forefront to help realize the President's vision for a more resilient U.S. agricultural system."

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