By Deborah Tannenbaum, State Executive Director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency; Juan Hernandez, State Conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service; and Davina Lee, Regional Office Director for USDA’s Risk Management Agency
March 22 is National Ag Day, a time for us to thank farmers and ranchers for feeding, sheltering and powering our nation. We also want to celebrate and recognize the pivotal role of producers in mitigating climate change through voluntary conservation efforts.
Climate change is happening, evidenced by persistent drought, frequent tornadoes and storms, and larger and more powerful wildfires. Our agricultural communities are on the frontlines. Now is the time for us to act, and Florida producers are doing their part.
We’re focused on providing producers tools to help mitigate climate change. As part of this, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken proactive steps to improve programs.
We bolstered the Conservation Reserve Program, providing an incentive for climate-smart practices and investing in partnerships to better quantify the benefits of this program.
With our Environmental Quality Incentives Program, we launched a new cover crop initiative as well as new conservation incentive contract option, all with a goal to make available additional funds to help producers conserve natural resources.
And finally, we’re enhancing Federal crop insurance to support conservation. In 2021 and 2022, we provided producers with a premium benefit for acres planted to cover crops.
You might be wondering, why so much emphasis on cover crops? Cover crops help soil sequester more carbon, a key tool for mitigating climate change; they prevent runoff, leading to cleaner water; and they boost production through improved soil health. But cover crops are just one tool, and producers in Florida are also using:
- Contour Buffer Strips – Contour buffer strips are narrow strips of permanent, herbaceous vegetative cover established around the hill slope on sloping cropland. These strips are alternated down the slope with wider cropped strips, farmed on the contour. Producers who apply contour buffer strips may increase carbon sequestration through perennial biomass plantings while delivering the co-benefits of reduced erosion, enhanced soil health, improved water quality and water infiltration.
- Field Border – A field border is a strip of permanent vegetation established at the edge or around the perimeter of a cropland or pasture field. Producers who implement field borders may build perennial biomass and soil carbon stocks while delivering the co-benefits of improving water quality and providing habitat for wildlife or pollinators.
- Residue and Tillage Management, No-Till – No-till limits soil disturbance to manage the amount, orientation and distribution of crop and plant residue on the soil surface. Producers who practice no-till maintain crop residue throughout the year and plant directly into it. No-till may increase soil carbon sequestration while reducing emissions from the field and delivering the co-benefits of reducing fossil fuel use, increasing plant-available moisture and improving water quality. No-till reduces the amount of soil carbon released into the atmosphere when compared to soil disturbance practices, while also reducing emissions and sequestering carbon.
More climate smart conservation activities can be found at: NRCS Climate-Smart Conservation Activities | NRCS (usda.gov).
Our staff work one-on-one with producers to conserve natural resources, grow, and improve their operations, and manage risk. This year’s National Ag Day theme is “Growing a Climate for Tomorrow.” We know from firsthand experience – farmers are doing this. On National Ag Day, and every day, we encourage you to thank a farmer or rancher for food, fiber, and fuel – and our future.
Deborah Tannenbaum, State Executive Director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Juan Hernandez, State Conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, can be reached at email@example.com. Davina Lee, Regional Office Director for USDA’s Risk Management Agency, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Producers interested in USDA programs are encouraged to contact their local USDA Service Center.