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Vilsack announces new climate strategy at MSU

LANSING, MI -- U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack came to East Lansing recently to announce USDA's new approach for stepping up the fight against climate change, including a new toolbox for the nation's farmers. At Michigan State University's Kellogg Center April 23, the USDA chief announced the agency's new climate change strategy for rural America, underpinned by 10 building blocks and backed by some big-name partners.

"As the rate of climate change has accelerated, we need new tools and techniques to protect the bottom line. We need more support from USDA, outside partners and organizations, and each other," Vilsack said. "That's why I'm announcing 10 building blocks for climate-smart agriculture and forestry. It's an ambitious but voluntary strategy that rewards, incentivizes and builds upon the good work already being done by farmers, ranchers and forest land owners."

Vilsack explained the proposed USDA tools for farmers will all come through existing USDA programs:

• Soil health — Increase no-till planting from the current 67 million acres to 100 million acres by 2025.

• Nitrogen stewardship — Promote the "Four Rs" of precision farming: Right timing, Right placement, Right type and Right quantity of nutrients

• Livestock partnerships — Support for bringing 500 new livestock farm biodigesters online in the next 10 years.

• Sensitive lands conservation — Use existing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Programs (ACEP) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through riparian buffers, tree planting, wetland conservation and organic soils. Add 400,000 CRP acres.

• Grazing and pasture — Support improved grazing management on an additional 4 million acres by 2025.

• Private forests — Enroll 2.1 million acres annually into the Forest Stewardship Program.

• Federal forests — Reforest 5,000 "post-disturbance acres" (restoring forests damaged by fire, insects and disease)

• Promote wood products — Vilsack said he'd like to see more high-rises use wood construction.

• Urban forests — Encourage organizational partner to plant 9,000 trees in urban areas.

• Energy generation and efficiency — Increased support for renewable energy technologies.

Laura Campbell manages agricultural ecology programming at Michigan Farm Bureau, and attended the announcement Thursday.

"Our policy supports voluntary conservation programs like what Secretary Vilsack laid out today at MSU," Campbell said. "We partner with USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Programs here in Michigan and consistently support farmers' efforts toward outstanding environmental stewardship."

She also noted similarities to an existing, successful program that's been helping Michigan farmers protect the environment for going on 20 years.

"In a similar vein, the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program—developed here in 1997 and going strong with more than 2,500 individual verifications—has proven to be a great way for farmers to implement practices protecting water and air quality, including those available through USDA programs.

"As outlined today, USDA's new program is focused on end goals related to climate change, but it's based in sound stewardship practices aimed at preserving water, air and soil quality," Campbell said. "That's encouraging, as is the additional attention this program brings to forest products, biofuels and alternative uses for forest land."

Partners Vilsack said are committed to the USDA's approach include groups in retail, entertainment, financial and environmental sectors.