How the USDA plans to plant around climate change
A few weeks ago, the Department of Agriculture released a pretty devastating report on just how bad climate change is going to suck for things we plant in the ground in America. Short version: T minus 25ish years until we hit Armageddon-like scenarios for agriculture and forests.
That might sound hopeless, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is not discouraged. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Switchboard blog reports on a followup speech Vilsack gave this week, saying the USDA will help farmers adapt to climate change and become part of the climate solution.
“We’re going to be very aggressive in this effort because we understand and appreciate, after the floods of 2011 and the drought of 2012, that folks need this assistance now,” said Vilsack. “And by doing this, by taking these actions, we can help to mitigate and help to manage risks.”
From the Switchboard blog:
Amongst other things, the agency plans to ramp up its efforts to encourage sustainable farming practices, both to help farmers be more resilient to climate impacts and to mitigate climate change by reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. …
Specifically, USDA points to best management practices such as conservation tillage, cover cropping and greater crop diversification, as well as more efficient irrigation as a key strategy to adapt to the intense rainfall and severe drought episodes that are expected to accompany climate change. In his speech, Secretary Vilsack said his agency will take steps to encourage multi-cropping, such as planting two types of crops in an area, planting cover crops between growing seasons and integrating livestock into cropping systems.
That’s encouraging news, since farming systems that are more ecologically integrated can help farmers better conserve their lands and protect water resources in times of drought.
What’s not encouraging? Well, let’s start with crop losses, billions of dollars of them, detailed here by the USDA:
Click to embiggen.
Also not encouraging: The USDA will face $2 billion in sequestration cuts basically any minute now. The cuts will hit meat inspectors hard, potentially leading to meat shortages. Farm Service Agency employees and food assistance for the poor will also be cut back.
Let’s hope Vilsack’s climate action plan can survive on a slimmer budget.
Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for
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