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USDA Reveals Clues for How Agriculture Industry Will Fit into Administration’s Climate Strategy

June 2, 2021
By Melissa Beaty

Recently, the USDA unveiled an early take on its climate strategy, giving more insight into how the agriculture industry could play a role in upcoming climate initiatives. The agency issued a 90-day progress report on what it calls climate-smart agriculture and forestry (CSAF).  

The report, which resulted from President Biden’s January 27 executive order, revealed insights from stakeholders on how to best develop and implement CSAF strategies. Several themes emerged from the feedback, notably that the USDA should seek approaches that “integrate climate, environmental, and equity and justice goals.”  

Don’t Expect a One-Size-Fits-All Approach  

While respondents urged the USDA to consider the added benefits of CSAF practices, they also cautioned the agency to remain attentive to potential adverse impacts — particularly on disadvantaged communities. The consensus seemed to be that a CSAF strategy needs to be flexible and locally led, and a “one-size-fits-all” policy will simply not work for the sector.  

The report did suggest that the USDA is preparing to quantify, track and report on sustainability efforts, which means the agricultural industry will need to consider how to accurately capture progress in various contexts. While the agency acknowledged that the variability among land types and practices within the sector presents challenges in accurately measuring improvements, they plan to release enhanced tools that will streamline reporting by producers and landowners.   

Carbon Banks Were Left Out but Aren’t Off the Table 

Of note, the report makes no mention of a carbon bank, the much-discussed idea to tap Commodity Credit Corporation funds to help pay farmers and foresters to capture and store carbon dioxide. The USDA suggested it could boost these markets in several ways, including by possibly “serving as a source of demand for agricultural carbon credits by setting clear price signals through price supports.” The plan emphasized that private-sector demand for carbon credits could incentivize the adoption of CSAF practices, before also floating setting standards to cut transaction costs. 

So, What’s Next? 

While the department is still in the initial planning phases of the strategy, we can soon expect the USDA to establish nationwide goals and benchmarks for encouraging and tracking progress on the adoption of certain climate-focused practices. Given the priorities of this administration and the potential for incentives or regulation, organizations should consider how they communicate their progress, as well as which factors they need to take into account and track moving forward.