U.S. Tailors Regional Climate Plans to Help Farmers Beat the Heat

A U.S. effort that will tailor climate-change relief for farmers by region may help build support for efforts to cut carbon emissions tied to global warming, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Vilsack will introduce U.S. Department of Agriculture programs today to combat the effects of climate volatility. As a Corn Belt drought, the worst since the 1930s, is replaced by the wettest Iowa spring on record, farmers need resources and research to make better choices on planting and dealing with threats from the weather, he said in previewing a speech today at the National Press Club in Washington.

“You’re going to see a lot more stress” on crops and livestock from climate change, he said yesterday in an interview. “You’re going to see crops produced in one area no longer able to be produced, unless we mitigate and adapt now.”

A USDA report in February concluded average temperatures in the main U.S. growing regions may rise 4 degrees to 6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees to 3 degrees Celsius) in the next four decades, outpacing nationwide trends.

The department will create seven regions, each responsible for developing specific ways to mitigate climate issues. The regions will be coordinated within the USDA extension system, which works with universities to support agriculture.

The USDA also will calculate the carbon content of farmland to determine which management practices boost soil quality and limit greenhouse-gas emissions, Vilsack said. Such a step will help farmers see the short-term benefits of planting cover crops, such as alfalfa, that help slow erosion while producing less profit than corn or soybeans, he said.

In the future, knowing about the land also may help develop support for carbon-trading markets, an approach backed by President Barack Obama that died in Congress in 2009.

“If carbon markets become viable, more viable than they have been, we’ll have a baseline of information,” he said. “We’ll have a gauge by which producers can measure and calculate whether a particular conservation practice will be beneficial.”

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