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U.S. Agriculture Secretary calls on farmers to do more to combat climate change

Apr 23, 2015

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes farmers can do more to combat climate change. 

He spoke to an audience of farmers and agri-business leaders this afternoon at Michigan State University.

Vilsack says farmers are very familiar with the effects of climate change.

“They see first-hand, on the ground, the growing threat that climate change, and increasingly severe weather, presents to agricultural production, forest resources and rural economies,” says Vilsack.

Agriculture also plays a significant role in the forces involved in climate change.

U.S Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates contribute about 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That’s on par with the rest of the globe, but Vilsack believes they can do better. 

The plan announced today is a mix of voluntary and incentive-based programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration and expand renewable energy production in the agricultural and forestry sectors.

The plan calls for action to deal with the use of fertilizer, containing methane emissions from cattle and swine, reforesting areas damaged by wildfires,and planting trees in urban areas. 

If the program is successful, the Obama administration predicts a sharp reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the next ten years.

Vilsack was joined in East Lansing by Brian Deese, a senior White House advisor on environmental issues. 

“Without significant adaptation on the part of Midwestern farmers,” Deese says, “the region’s thriving agricultural sector is likely to suffer yield losses and economic damages as temperatures rise.”

Secretary Vilsack is optimistic farmers will choose to take part in the program, even though it is being launched in the final years of the Obama administration.

Vilsack says there are financial, conservation and even patriotic reasons for agri-business to take part in the programs.

“Michigan Farm Bureau policy supports voluntary conservation programs like the one Secretary Vilsack laid out today at MSU,” says Laura Campbell.  She manages agricultural ecology programming at the Michigan Farm Bureau.

“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. That’s encouraging," adds Campbell.