The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will invest $300 million to enhance the measurement and reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon sequestration in the country’s agriculture and forestry sectors. The funding will be sourced from the country’s climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which has allocated approximately $20 billion in total investments to promote climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices.
This investment will be used to establish a robust research system for monitoring carbon levels in soil, as soil plays a crucial role in understanding how carbon dioxide (CO2) is stored in the ground. Additionally, it will help the USDA enhance its data management capacity and improve the methods used to quantify and analyze GHGs.
Agriculture is responsible for 10% of the country’s GHG emissions in 2021, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The USDA’s $300 million investment will provide farmers and ranchers with opportunities to earn more income by adopting climate-friendly practices. Some common examples of carbon emission reduction strategies that farmers can employ include no-till agriculture and planting cover crops, both of which contribute to healthier and less erosive soil. These practices, often referred to as regenerative farming, have the potential to capture and store more carbon dioxide than conventional farming methods. Farmers who can quantify and monitor the amount of CO2 their new practices sequester in the soil become eligible to earn carbon credits. Each credit represents one tonne of carbon reduced or removed from the atmosphere.
Global companies are also investing in natural carbon sequestration projects and agricultural practices. Different carbon farming practices result in varying rates of carbon sequestration, as reported by S&P Global in 2022.
While soil carbon storage has been recognized for a long time, scientists warn that there are uncertainties regarding the exact amount of carbon emission reduction it can achieve. Recent research has shown that carbon stocks stored underground in soil forests are vulnerable to global warming. Increased warming of the Earth leads to significant loss of carbon stored in deep soils, at depths exceeding 30cm (12 inches). These findings pose challenges to the sector’s measurement of carbon stored in soil and its climate impact. Additionally, measuring CO2 deep underground is a highly technical and time-consuming process.
For some farmers, switching to new carbon farming techniques may not be convincing, especially if it means incurring additional expenses. This is why the USDA will heavily invest in obtaining more and better data on carbon sequestration. Improved monitoring and reporting of soil carbon capture and storage data are essential for a more robust carbon market. Such markets can incentivize farmers and ranchers to engage in carbon-reducing practices.
John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation, commented on the matter, stating, “One of the big remaining technological challenges for tackling the climate crisis is ensuring that natural solutions in agriculture and forestry are working well… Today’s USDA announcement of $300 million from the Inflation Reduction Act to measure and verify emissions from those sectors is a big step in the right direction.”
The ultimate goal is to instill confidence in farmers and foresters to embrace climate-friendly practices, compensating their efforts while protecting them from any risks associated with adopting new technologies. Making this a national concern through policy is beneficial for both America and the planet.
The USDA is actively engaging with stakeholders and technical experts to inform its effort in finalizing the strategy. A webinar will be held on July 21 for those interested in learning more or contributing insights.