USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack Wednesday called for a stronger effort to mitigate climate effects on agriculture through the federal development of seven regional hubs dedicated to environmental risk management.
Working with other agencies, the hubs will serve as a source of regional data and information for hazard and adaptation planning in the agriculture and forest sectors. The hubs will also provide outreach and extension to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on science-based risk management and will partner with land grant universities, Extension and the private sector.
Each hub will be located in a USDA facility within the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Northern Plains, Southern Plains, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest.
"Our farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are the most innovative on earth, and they're up to the task of meeting environmental challenges that lay ahead," Vilsack said during an address at the National Press Club Wednesday.
"We know what we're seeing on the ground - more intense weather events, and a greater number of them. USDA will be there to support the efforts of our farmers and ranchers to adapt to these new challenges, just as we have been for decades," he said.
Also part of Vilsack's announcement was the unveiling of the Carbon Management Evaluation Tool, or COMET-FARM. The tool, which is free to use online, uses data inputs on location, soil characteristics, tillage and nutrient use, then estimates carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission reductions associated with conservation practices.
COMET-FARM complements data collected under the Rapid Carbon Assessment program, also released Wednesday. The data provides a quantitative estimate of amounts and distribution of carbon stocks for U.S. soils under various land covers.
Finally, the Vilsack's announcement also included development of science-based cover crop guidelines, which establish common rules for burndown and other activities across all involved USDA agencies.
"By taking collaborative, regionally-appropriate steps today to adapt to threats, USDA can help American agriculture continue its tremendous productivity in the years to come," Vilsack added. "We've already worked hard to be proactive and ensure that USDA is prepared for modern environmental challenges - but we can't let up in our efforts."
Vilsack's comments were welcomed by energy group 25x'25, which said U.S. producers welcome USDA's help in strengthening production and cutting input costs.
"We applaud USDA's initiative that will offer assistance to producers in mitigating the risks posed by changes in our climate. The Hubs proposed by USDA will serve the farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners in each region, providing tools and localized strategies to help them meet the challenges of drought, heat stress, excessive moisture and changes in pest management," the group noted in a statement.
The group said the USDA plan shows that "with forethought, leadership and the right priorities, U.S. agriculture and forestry systems will meet the challenges posed by changes in weather and prosper from improved resiliency to them."