Some ag groups are leery of a new USDA greenhouse gas report that the government agency says will provide sound science to develop tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon storage.
The USDA released the report, “Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry,” last week.
The report aims to create a standard set of greenhouse gas estimation methods for USDA, landowners and other stakeholders to evaluate greenhouse gas impacts of management decisions.
William Hohenstein, director of the USDA Climate Change Program Office, said that until now there hasn’t been a compilation of all the science to determine measurement methods for carbon sequestration or greenhouse gas management.
But Traci Bruckner, senior policy associate for the Center for Rural Affairs, said the report “completely ignores” farming systems with low external inputs, such as sustainable and organic systems.
“There’s scientific proof that those systems really provide the greatest opportunity for farmers to build soil organic carbon and sequester atmospheric carbon,” she said. “Those are some proven practices and systems that have helped farmers mitigate the challenges coming at them with climate.”
Bruckner hoped to see such systems included in the study.
“In our view, it’s not going to be an effective tool if it ignores that segment of agriculture,” she said. “They should look at the entire landscape and entire set of practices that are out there.”
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, is most concerned about potential additional regulation on confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.
“I think there’s still quite a bit of question on the validity of the science that some proponents of additional regulation are making,” he said.
Beef, swine and poultry producers must develop their product as effectively and efficiently as possible, and be the best environmental advocates and stewards, Field said.
“It does nobody any good to short-circuit or make a short cut that could cost the entire industry or their operation long-term,” he said.
Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, had not yet had time to review the report. He said his organization’s members are most concerned about figuring out how to feed 10.6 billion people by 2050.
“If this report can be used by our members to achieve this goal in a way that makes them more productive and protective of the environment, then we will consider it valuable,” he said. “If used to undermine our members’ goals of providing safe and affordable food while doing nothing to alleviate concerns with the climate in a unilateral fashion, we don’t see a lot of value in such a document.”
The federation’s members will adopt those recommendations and tools that make the most sense going forward, he said.
USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie said the clients for the report are primarily technical service providers, crop consultants, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service staff and state employees.
“We’re trying to create user-friendly tools based on this guidance,” he said.
With the information, farmers could apply to USDA conservation programs to manage nitrogen, improve manure management systems or plant trees in buffer strips to sequester carbon and reduce emissions, Hohenstein said.
“With this information, we’ll have a better sense of the benefits of those practices, not just on the farm but in aggregate as well,” he said.
There is growing interest in addressing climate issues through the National Environmental Policy Act, Bonnie said.
“I think, where there are forestry activities or livestock grazing or other issues dealt with, this report will provide a tool to assure those analyses are based in sound science,” he said.
Bonnie stressed that any actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon would be voluntary.
Hohenstein said the USDA consulted farmers, farm organizations and commodity groups about their needs and interests.
“Many of the practices that have greenhouse gas benefits also have benefits in terms of farmers’ bottom line,” he said. “Ultimately when the farmer’s going to be evaluating them, they’re going to be evaluating them in an economic sense, and also they’re concerned about the stewardship benefits as well.”