As farmers grapple with extreme weather and changing conditions, policymakers in D.C. are asking how agriculture can play in a role in climate solutions.
To answer this question, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2022 launched a new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program to fund pilot projects to help producers get started in “climate-smart commodities”—that is, outputs of farming, ranching, or forestry practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon.
What are Climate-Smart partnerships?
The program generated a tremendous amount of interest, with the USDA receiving more than 1,000 proposals from more than 700 groups. The agency announced it would support 141 individual Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities projects totaling $3.1 billion, using two pools of Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funding.
The projects are designed to last one to five years and range in cost from $250,000 to $100 million. Recipients include government entities, farmer co-operatives, universities, nonprofits, and private businesses, and the focus areas fall into three general categories:
- Technical and financial assistance to implement voluntary climate-smart practices.
- Methods to quantify, monitor, report and verify greenhouse gas benefits.
- New markets for climate-smart commodities.
Ultimately, the USDA expects the initiative will reach more than 50,000 farms, encompassing 20 to 25 million acres of working land engaged in climate-smart production practices such as cover crops, no-till, and nutrient management.
California projects to watch
More than two dozen of the funded projects are based in California agriculture. Standouts include:
Unlocking the Benefits of Regenerative Almonds
Blue Diamond Growers is the lead partner on this $45 million project to promote the adoption of climate-smart and regenerative practices on California almond farms and expand market opportunities for climate-smart almonds. "We are honored by this award, which will fund on-the-ground climate-smart practices to not only sequester carbon to combat climate change, but also enhance the biodiversity of orchards and the soil," says Blue Diamond Growers' director of sustainability, Dr. Dan Sonke. "These regenerative practices enhance the resiliency of our farmers in a changing climate and with global market challenges."
incentives for establishing cover crops in orchards
Lead partner Agoro Carbon Alliance is facilitating a $3.8 million project to help producers in five states, including California, incorporate cover crops on their orchards. Agoro Carbon will provide growers with financial and technical assistance.is also a partner on two other projects focused on supporting tribal farmers to grow cover crop seed and creating climate-smart commodities by using an emerging carbon capture technology called rock weathering.
Launching The North Valley Food Hub
A $5 million grant will help CSU Chico’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture and College of Agriculture work collaboratively with small and historically underserved producers of almonds, walnuts, rice, tomatoes, peaches, and prunes throughout the region. "The project will expand knowledge on regenerative agriculture practices, climate-smart practices, to enhance the health of our soils and help us maintain our food production," says Patricia Stock, Dean of the CSU, Chico College of Agriculture.
You can learn more about other projects that made the cut for the climate-Smart commodities program by viewing this interactive map.
What happens next
The USDA is working to finalize the scope and funding levels of the projects. All of the partnerships will participate in a network to share what they learn with the agency and the public.
Meanwhile, climate change will remain a hotly debated topic for the 118th Congress. Just before the legislature adjourned in December 2022, two bills related to agriculture and climate change were signed into law as part of the omnibus package. The bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act will establish new USDA oversight of carbon markets, while the SUSTAINS Act provides incentives to the private sector to fund conservation practices.
However, the 2023 Farm Bill debate could provide an opportunity for Republican lawmakers to push back on the administration’s climate priorities. Incoming House Agriculture Committee Chair GT Thompson (R-PA) has questioned USDA’s use of CCC funds to fund the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program. Other House Agriculture Committee GOP members joined him in sending a letter to Secretary Vilsack that cites the lack of explicit congressional approval as overreach—so unknowns do remain for the program.
The climate-smart initiative is part of the USDA’s broader strategy to position the agriculture and forestry sectors as leaders in climate change mitigation through voluntary, incentive-based, and market-driven approaches. You can stay updated on opportunities to engage by visiting usda.gov/climate-solutions.