NRCS helps build resiliency to climate change
As experts predict growing climate changes in the United States, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service offers a variety of practices, programs and studies help landowners build resiliency to its effects.
Although agriculture sources only contribute 6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, many sources can be reduced with minimal economic impact, said Wayne Honeycutt, NRCS deputy chief for science and technology.
“We, as an agency, have tremendous opportunity and responsibility to mitigate climate change and increase the resiliency of production systems to extreme weather events so we can enhance sustainability of our food production systems,” Honeycutt said.
With more extreme weather events, it is more difficult for farmers and ranchers to predict what they’ll be faced with, which is where NRCS can help, he said.
Several conservation practices increase carbon storage in soil, called carbon sequestration, which buffers climate change and provides benefits to landowners by storing more carbon and increasing the organic matter in the soil.
The higher the organic matter content, the higher the water holding capacity and water infiltration, which also increases resilience to drought, heavy precipitation and extreme temperatures.
Some practices that help improve soil health are cover crops, crop rotation and no-till. Soil, pollinators, wildlife and farmers can all benefit from these practices. Farmers are able to achieve higher yields, reduce inputs and improve efficiency of nutrient and water use all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Profitable farms are key to enhancing economic opportunity across rural America,” Honeycutt said.
NRCS has also provided financial assistance to replace old combustion engines that emit high amounts of nitrogen oxides with more environmentally friendly engines. From 2009-2012, NRCS replaced heavily polluting combustion engines, equaling more than 641,000 light-duty vehicles off the road.
After evaluating all of NRCS’ 160 conservation standards, NRCS experts identified 35 standards as positively reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. This allows conservation planners to readily choose practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or increase carbon sequestration.
About 32,000 soil profiles were sampled in 6,500 locations to develop the largest soil carbon dataset in the world. This detailed rapid carbon assessment will serve as a benchmark and will be checked at certain intervals to assess how well we are doing for maintaining and even increasing soil carbon levels.
Through these programs and many more, NRCS helps farmers and ranchers increase carbon sequestration and resiliency to extreme weather on millions of acres across the nation.
“Building resiliency to extreme weather helps keep farmers farming and ranchers ranching, so we aren’t dependent on others for our food supply,” Honeycutt said.