Virginia Tech received a record $80 million grant to help farmers implement climate-smart practices that could significantly reduce greenhouse gasses.
With the Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture, which is now underway, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will distribute more than $57 million of the largest grant in the university’s history to producers to enact climate-friendly practices and serve as a pilot program for a national model.
The $80 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture will pilot a program that pays producers to implement climate-smart practices on farms of all sizes and commodities, an initiative that could have significant impacts on curbing climate-changing gasses.
A three-year pilot program will be created in Virginia, Arkansas, Minnesota, and North Dakota that will test the feasibility of rolling out a similar program on a national scale. If scaled up nationally, the program could help producers reduce agricultural emissions by 55 percent and total emissions in the United States by 8 percent after 10 years.
“We are proud to lead this effort that gives agricultural producers incentives to enact climate-smart practices and the financial means to do so,” said Tom Thompson, principal investigator on the project, associate dean of the college, and director of CALS Global. “This is a watershed program that helps the agricultural industry be a leader in addressing climate change.”
According to Thompson, the credit for the pilot concept belongs to RIPE (Rural Investment to Protect our Environment). Virginia Tech leads the Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture.
The pilot program will pay producers $100 per acre or animal unit for voluntary adoption of climate-smart practices that deliver more than that amount in public environmental benefits. Unlike previous cost-sharing programs that shared some of the financial burdens of adopting climate-smart practices on producers, this program pays producers more than the cost of implementation of these practices while also improving their bottom lines. More than 20 state and national organizations will help to implement the Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture. Producers interested in learning more information can visit the Alliance’s website.
The Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture will reach an estimated 4,500 agricultural operations representing up to 500,000 acres in the initial four states. If scaled up nationally, as much as 80 percent of agricultural producers could be enrolled in the program, which would make a significant impact on global carbon emissions. Only about 3 percent of producers currently participate in carbon reduction programs.
In tandem with tackling the issue of climate change, the project also targets boosting agricultural productivity in order to help feed a growing global population that is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.
Producers will be able to market their climate-smart commodities to the American public through certificates with tracking numbers. Informed by feedback through a series of roundtables, the tracking system will include information needed by commodity purchasers to meet their sustainability goals.
The USDA “is delivering on our promise to build and expand these market opportunities for American agriculture and be global leaders in climate-smart agricultural production,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in his announcement. “This effort will increase the competitive advantage of U.S. agriculture both domestically and internationally, build wealth that stays in rural communities, and support a diverse range of producers and operation types.”
Virginia Tech researchers will create a model that selects participants to ensure program diversity. At least 40 percent of participants will be underserved and small producers, reaching at least 1,900 operations. A minimum of 500 operations with socially disadvantaged or limited resource producers will participate in the pilot project.
The grant will provide $2 million to both Minnesota and Virginia to pilot the implementation of high-value and high-cost climate-smart practices in animal feeding operations. The pilot’s near-term impacts will be an estimated greenhouse gas benefit of 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and a total environmental value of $200 million. The national program would have a benefit-to-cost ratio of 5:1, reaping a total environmental benefit of $415 billion (working under the assumption that multiple climate-smart practices are implemented on the same cropland acres and animal units after ten years of the program).
The program will rely heavily on research and programs at Virginia Tech, including the Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report and insights from experts in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the School of Animal Sciences, and the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
There will be rigorous monitoring during the three-year pilot program to ensure the transaction costs associated with implementing the climate-smart initiatives are minimized and that there are few barriers for producers who enact such initiatives in their operations. Virginia Tech researchers will track the greenhouse gas savings of the initiative as they are implemented, quantify the benefits of other environmental impacts such as reduced soil erosion, and examine consumers’ willingness to pay for products with climate-smart labels.
“This is an extraordinarily exciting time to be involved in agriculture,” Thompson said. “Farmers have always been the great stewards of our land, and American agriculture has always been a productivity powerhouse. This pilot program will help them continue to do so for generations to come.”
Max Esterhuizen for Virginia Tech