The Agriculture Department said Wednesday it will set up a monitoring and data collection network to measure greenhouse gas emissions and determine how much carbon can be sequestered using certain agricultural practices.
The network, using $300 million in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, will help quantify the results of so-called climate-smart or regenerative farming practices, a cornerstone of the department’s approach to dealing with a warming planet. The research and data collected will also be crucial to measuring progress on President Biden’s goal of halving greenhouse emissions by the end of the decade.
“It’s not just about promoting climate-smart agriculture, it’s not just about promoting sound science,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a news conference Tuesday before the announcement. “It is also about expanding sources of income for small and medium-sized producers.”
The Inflation Reduction Act, an expansionary climate, tax and health measure that Mr. Biden signed into law last year, provided about $20 billion to support existing agricultural conservation programs that encouraged practices like planting cover crops and no-till. . The department also provided billions in additional funding to agricultural projects that reduce emissions, in part by capturing carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases, from the atmosphere and storing it as carbon in the soil.
But skeptics have warned that the effectiveness of these agricultural methods in mitigating climate change is unproven. Researchers have not determined, for example, how much carbon can be stored in the soil and for how long.
The $300 million investment aims to address the scientific uncertainty surrounding these practices. It will establish a network to examine how carbon is sequestered by soil across the country, create another focused on greenhouse gases, and improve models to better measure agricultural conservation programs.
Construction of the networks will take place over the next eight years, and the Agriculture Department will release the data a year after collection, a spokeswoman said.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, welcomed the move, calling the investment “a really important foundation that we should have laid 20 years ago.”
“We’re making terrible use of the tens of billions of conservation dollars we’re spending because we just don’t know enough about which practices reduce emissions,” he added. “That’s a giant, existential, endangerment problem that the USDA is beginning to address.”
Currently, the agricultural sector accounts for approx 10 percent of emissions nationwide, according to government data. But existing data collection systems contain gaps, may be out of date or don’t provide granular details about individual farming practices, said William Hohenstein, director of the Agriculture Department’s office of energy and environmental policy.
The announcement comes as some Republican lawmakers seeks to cancel the $20 billion in funding of the Inflation Reduction Act dedicated to agricultural conservation.
Mr Vilsack warned that withdrawing such funding would be a “big mistake” because the next initiatives, such as the data collection networks, could encourage investment or growth in certain agricultural practices. More accurate measurements of their impacts could lead to more market opportunities for farmers alike from the government and private sector, he said. These could take the form of higher prices for carbon credits or conservation easements, for example.
“We will collect a large amount of information, which in turn will allow us in a uniform way to strengthen the credibility of the information provided, which in turn creates greater trust, which in turn allows markets to develop, in turn results in greater adoption and income opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers, all of which also help create jobs in rural areas,” said Mr. Vilsack.