USDA issues US$80 million to Virginia Tech to back environmentally friendly farming
28 Sep 2022 --- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extended a US$80 million grant to The Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to head a program that pays food producers to implement climate-smart practices on farms. The project aims to reduce climate-changing gasses from domestic farms while boosting productivity.
The USDA is looking for sustainable ways to feed the ballooning global population expected to hit more than nine billion by 2050, according to its report.
Instead of leaving that goal solely up to producers, Virginia Tech will be aiding them financially to support the environment and food production.
The USDA states it is “delivering on our promise to build and expand these market opportunities for American agriculture and be global leaders in climate-smart agricultural production,” says Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary at USDA.
The pilot program is set to run for three years in Virginia, Arkansas, Minnesota and North Dakota.
Virginia Tech will directly distribute at least US$54 million to producers to help them enact climate-smart agricultural practices for crop and animal production.
The program could help producers reduce agricultural emissions by 55% after ten years if nationally scaled. As many as 80% of farming producers could be nationally enrolled, as only about 3% of producers currently participate in carbon reduction agendas.
“This pilot project provides a plan for investing in rural communities and supporting agricultural producers who deliver environmental benefits through their climate-smart production practices,” states Matt Lohr, secretary of agriculture and forestry at Virginia Tech.
Producers spearheading change
The program will involve an estimated 5,200 operations representing up to 600,000 acres in the four states. In each of those operations, producers will be paid US$100 per acre or animal unit for voluntary adoption of climate-smart practices that deliver more than that amount in public environmental benefits.
The producers will be monitored throughout the program to ensure the transaction costs associated with executing the initiatives are minimized and that there are few barriers for producers who enact the operations. Greenhouse gas (GHG) savings will also be tracked.
“This effort will increase the competitive advantage of US agriculture domestically and internationally, build wealth that stays in rural communities, and support a diverse range of producers and operation types,” says Vilsack.
As a way to market the eco-friendly measures the producers are taking, consumers can access certificates with tracking numbers.
These tracking numbers provide information on how emissions are being reduced. The tracking number will also supply information needed by commodity purchasers to meet their sustainability goals.
Producers can sign up for the program through a website available for the next few months.
Virginia Tech highlights its support for diversity inclusion when selecting which producers are involved in the program.
“This effort will increase the competitive advantage of US agriculture domestically and internationally, build wealth that stays in rural communities, and support a diverse range of producers and operation types,” emphasizes Vilsack.
The college researchers will create a model that selects participants to ensure that the program has diversity among its participants.
They state that at least 40% of participants will be “underserved” and small producers with at least 2,100 operations. At the same time, a minimum of 630 operations with socially disadvantaged or limited resource producers will participate.
“This pilot program is at the core of our land-grant mission as we strive to serve our communities by investing our time and knowledge to help them thrive both now and for generations to come,” says Alan Grant, Virginia Tech dean.
The USDA’s agriculture secretary recently announced they would give US$2.8 billion in funding to 70 climate-smart projects as more means for expansion.
Edited by Sabine Waldeck
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