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Climate-Smart Agriculture

I read in this morning’s paper of a nearly $170 million Iowa-based initiative that pays farmers for their environmental efforts. The state is among the first to win a grant from a new $1 billion climate-smart agriculture program, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reports.

This is exciting because the US Department of Agriculture’s climate-smart farming program has received nearly 1,100 requests from groups seeking $20 billion in Funding, far outstripping expectations.

What is climate-smart agriculture, you ask? It is an integrated approach to managing landscapes to help adapt agricultural methods, livestock and crops to the effects of climate change and, where possible, counteract it by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The initiative was announced by USDA in February. It is designed to help farmers get paid for adopting conservation practices that sequester carbon in the soil. It is funded through the Commodity Credit Corp., an entity formed in the 1930’s at the height of the Great Depression.

Today, some of the programs are run by the Iowa Soybean Association’s Soil and Water Outcomes Fund. The Iowa program now pays growers in 10 states for farming practices that improve the soil health and water quality. These methods also help hold carbon dioxide in the soil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

This year, farms in the program earned about $31 per acre for practices such as growing cover crops and not tilling their fields.

The state is working with multiple partners including county governments, environmental groups, water utilities and others, to speed up adoption of practices that can include not just cover crops but bioreactors and saturated buffers.

The Iowa Soybean Association believes the initiative is going to have a profound impact on soil health and water health.

Secretary Vilsack concludes “I think you are going to see a lot more of that acoss the country. You’re going to see more productive soil and cleaner water as a result of embrancing climate-smart agriculture.

Hear more about this and other climate initiatives at River Action’s Upper Mississippi River Conference, October 19-20. Learn more at www.riveraction.org.