Agriculture secretary highlights key work in 2021 to combat climate change•

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued the following statement delivering on the commitment to combat climate change and highlighting key accomplishments to combat climate change at the Department of Agriculture since the Biden-Harris administration took office on Jan. 20, 2021.

The effects of climate change on the nation’s agriculture, natural resources and communities are already a grim reality. Longer, more severe droughts, catastrophic wildfires, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and other record-setting natural disasters exacerbated by climate change continue to devastate lives and livelihoods.

“Climate change threatens our food security, safety, and the environment we all depend on, but USDA is taking action to respond,” said Vilsack. “Working closely alongside our partners and those we serve, we are conserving precious natural resources, supporting climate smart forestry and agriculture, helping agricultural producers make their operations more climate friendly and resilient to climate change and protecting communities from wildfire.”

Thoughtfully managed, American agriculture, and both public and private lands, can be made more resilient to the effects of climate change while also acting as a powerful tool in mitigating its effects. USDA provides critical leadership in these efforts through research, technical assistance, funding, as well as support from USDA staff on the ground. Together, these resources help public and private landowners, farmers and ranchers and communities and businesses become more resilient to the effects of climate change and more sustainable in the long run.

Most importantly, the work to combat climate change cannot be done alone. To be truly successful, we at USDA and across the federal government must creatively examine our partnerships with state, local, tribal, private and non-profit partners, tap into their expertise, leverage shared resources, and seek out new ways to work together to tackle these problems across a landscape we all share.

That is why today, USDA announced a 10-year strategy for restoring the health of fire-adapted forests and reducing the risk of climate-amplified wildfire to communities. Using new funding and cross-boundary partnerships, priority will be given to help at-risk communities adapt to wildfire.

Key USDA accomplishments during 2021 include:

Forest Service

  • Responded to an unprecedented fire year, alongside multi-agency partners, that strained resources, staffing and devastated communities and landscapes across the country.
  • Achieved 93% of planned treatments to reduce potential fuels for wildfires.
  • Treated more than 3.6 million acres to reduce wildfire risk, 1.3 million of which effectively mitigated wildfire when it mattered most.
  • Assisted 12,000 communities with wildfire mitigation and suppression with the help of state, local and federal partners as well as more than 10,000 volunteer fire departments.
  • Treated nearly a quarter of a million acres for pests and enhanced 3.2 million acres of wildlife habitat, almost 2,400 miles of streams and 37,000 acres of lake habitats.
  • Invested $92 million in projects for cross-boundary forest health and fire prevention projects to sequester carbon, increase forest health and reduce hazardous fuels on more than 225,000 acres of federal, state and private land.
  • Leveraged partnerships with the National Reforestation Partnership Program, the National Forest Foundation, American Forests, Arbor Day Foundation, and One Tree Planted to grow 12 million seedlings to be used on more than 100 tree planting projects.
  • Added nine new Shared Stewardship agreements and 53 Good Neighbor Authority agreements to better collaborate with state, tribal, and local governments on restoration projects to improve forest conditions and protect local communities from wildfires.

Farm Service Agency

  • Overhauled the Conservation Reserve Program to improve climate benefits, with producers enrolling more than 5.3 million acres into the program, surpassing a goal of 4 million acres.

Risk Management Agency

  • Added a new flexibility for producers to receive 100% of the prevented planting payment when using cover crops and provided almost $60 million to producers to plant 12.2 million acres of cover crops through the Pandemic Cover Crop Program.
  • Offered additional insurance coverage for corn farmers who “split apply” nitrogen to their crops, a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly practice.
  • Invested $50 million in 118 partnerships to expand access to conservation assistance for climate-smart agriculture and forestry.
  • Invested $10 million to support climate-smart agriculture and forestry through voluntary conservation in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
  • Invested $40 million through Conservation Innovation Grants to help agricultural producers adopt innovative conservation practices and mitigate the effects of climate change on their operations.
  • Invested $405 million through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, including more than 100 projects to address climate change, improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agriculture.

Office of Tribal Relations

  • The secretaries of agriculture and the interior signed a joint Secretarial Order to ensure both Departments are managing public lands and waters in a way that fulfills the United States’ unique trust obligation to federally recognized Indian Tribes and their citizens.
  • USDA supported a new memorandum committing federal agencies to elevating Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in federal scientific and policy processes.

Rural Development

  • Invested $687 million through the Rural Energy for America Programto help rural businesses purchase and install energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy systems like solar.
  • Announced $700 million in economic relief to biofuel producersto restore renewable fuel markets affected by the pandemic through the new Biofuel Producer Program authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
  • Invested $241 million in renewable and energy storage loans through the Rural Utilities Service. These investments include 13 solar projects totaling $199.8 million, one $4 million hydroelectric project and one $38 million battery energy storage system.
  • Added more than 270 new companies to the BioPreferredcertification and labeling program, bringing the total to 3,200 companies from 47 different countries.
  • Invested more than $47 million in grants across 31 states to add almost a billion gallons of higher blends fuels to the market through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Investment Program.

Research, Education, and Economics

  • Joined the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Grand Challengeto meet 100% of U.S. aviation fuel demand by 2050.
  • Developed a new tool to improve drought early warning systems, critical to food security and adaptive management.
  • Invested $146 millionfor sustainable agricultural research to improve a robust, resilient, climate-smart food and agricultural system.
  • Invested $9 million for new Cooperative Extension and USDA Climate Hubs partnerships to bolster climate research and share climate-smart solutions with the agricultural community.
  • Invested $8 million to create two new AFRI Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institutesto help farmers mitigate the effects of climate change on labor and resource management.

In 2022, USDA will continue its climate-smart approach to agriculture and forestry and prioritize productivity, economic wellbeing and adaptation to climate change while taking actions to reduce emissions and sequester carbon. USDA will prioritize the following objectives this year:

Forest Service will begin work on its 10-year strategy to restore forest health and reduce climate-amplified wildfire risks to forests and at-risk communities. This includes – over the life of the strategy – treating 20 million acres of national forests and grasslands and 30 million acres of other federal, state, Tribal and private lands to improve conditions across the landscape.

Forest Service will continue to strategically focus reforestation at the right scale, time and place, to make forests more resilient to climate change while increasing carbon uptake and storage.

Rural Development will continue to strategically focus on integrating climate outcomes into its work by expanding clean and reliable energy generation and increasing renewable fuels production and infrastructure to the benefit of rural and Tribal communities.

For example, Rural Development will create a new pilot program to support clean energy in underserved rural communities.

NRCS will host a new signup to help producers in 11 states mitigate climate change through adoption of cover crops and begin a program to provide incentives for climate-smart conservation on working lands.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America.

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