On the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Center for Rural Affairs and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released recommendations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) regarding conservation programs implementation under the 2014 Farm Bill; recommendations that will help farmers and ranchers adapt to and help address climate change.

“Farmers and ranchers can and should be at the heart of our efforts to address climate change,” said Traci Bruckner, Senior Policy Associate with the Center for Rural Affairs. “Farmers and ranchers have much at risk as rural and small town America increasingly experience the impacts of climate change. But they also have opportunities to be a crucial part of finding solutions to the stern challenges that climate changes presents, in rural America and beyond.”

We need to reorient our farm bill programs to focus support to those farmers and ranchers looking to help address climate change and build more resiliency into their enterprises, Bruckner continued.

The policy recommendation document is based on a set of principles for addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation through NRCS conservation programs, and includes specific recommendations for actions NRCS can take to integrate these principles with conservation program development and delivery. USDA has launched a climate change initiative, which includes new Regional Climate Hubs, science-based guidelines for cover crop management, and other new tools and programs. The Center for Rural Affairs and NSAC urge USDA to also look to existing solutions to climate change challenges that can be achieved through farm bill program implementation.

These include:

  • integrating climate and energy issues into conservation planning by incorporating a climate adaptation and mitigation component that specifically addresses on-farm benefits, including energy savings;
  • updating the Conservation Practice Standard GHG Ranking Tool to reflect the full scope of climate benefits that a practice offers by assessing both adaptation and mitigation benefits; and
  • prioritizing enrollment in the new easement program and targeted conservation program for those projects that provide the greatest climate benefits, both in terms of carbon sequestration and avoided transportation- and development-related GHG emissions.

“President Obama has made it clear that most federal agencies have roles to play in facilitating adaptation to climate change across economic sectors, including agriculture,” concluded Bruckner. “And NRCS can help farmers and ranchers be at the forefront of addressing climate change.”

According to Bruckner, NRCS is currently writing program rules that address the changes to conservation programs directed by the 2014 Farm Bill. The agency has indicated they are likely to release the rules by late summer.

«view the full conservation and climate policy recommendations document