The Agriculture Department said on Wednesday it will set up a monitoring and data collection network to measure greenhouse gas emissions and determine how much carbon can be captured using certain farming practices.
The network, which uses $300 million in funding from the Control Inflation Act, will help determine the outcomes of so-called climate-smart, or regenerative, farming practices, a cornerstone of the department’s approach to tackling a warming planet. The research and data collected will also be essential to gauging 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 the right science,” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said at a news conference Tuesday ahead of the announcement. “It is also about expanding the sources of income for small and medium-sized producers.”
The Reducing Inflation Act, an expansive climate, tax and health measure Mr. Biden signed into law last year, provided about $20 billion to support existing conservation agriculture programs that encouraged practices like sowing cover crops and not tilling the land. The department has also provided billions of dollars in additional financing for agricultural projects that reduce emissions, in part by capturing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and storing it as soil carbon.
But skeptics warn that the effectiveness of these farming methods in mitigating climate change is unproven. Researchers haven’t determined, for example, how much carbon can be stored in soil and for how long.
The $300 million investment seeks to address scientific uncertainty around these practices. It will create a network to examine how carbon is captured from soils across the country, create another focused on greenhouse gas emissions, and improve models to better measure conservation agriculture programs.
A spokesperson said building the networks would happen over the next eight years, and the Ministry of Agriculture would publish the data a year after it was collected.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit human rights 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 our tens of billions of conservation dollars simply because we don’t know enough about practices that reduce emissions,” he added. “This is a huge, existential, planet-threatening problem that the USDA is beginning to address.”
Currently, the agricultural sector is responsible for approx 10 percent of emissions nationwideAccording to government data. But current data collection systems contain gaps, can be outdated, or don’t provide accurate details on individual farming practices, said William Hohenstein, director of the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Energy and Environmental Policy.
The announcement comes as some Republican lawmakers have come forward Seeking to cancel $20 billion in financing From the Inflation Reduction Act intended to preserve agriculture.
Mr Vilsack warned that it would be a “huge mistake” to roll back this funding because later initiatives, such as data collection networks, could encourage investment or growth in certain farming practices. He said more accurate measurements of their impacts could lead to more market opportunities for both government and private farmers. These could take the form of higher prices for carbon credits or conservation easements, for example.
“We will collect a great deal of information, which in turn will allow us in a standardized way to enhance the credibility of the information provided, which in turn creates greater trust, which in turn allows markets to develop, and in turn leads to increased adoption and income opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers, all of which also helps create jobs.” In rural settings,” said Mr. Vilsack.