USDA on Thursday released a new greenhouse gas report to provide uniform scientific methods for quantifying the changes in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage from various land management and conservation activities.
Nearly 40 scientists across all departments of the USDA helped to produce the report, along with review from private-sector analysts, technical specialists and the public.
"We believe this report can serve as a very important scientific tool to help farmers, researchers and forest owners, help agencies and others who are interested encourage better stewardship on our farms and ranches," said Robert Bonnie, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment.
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Bonnie said the report helps the USDA shape programs, and can enable farmers to prepare comprehensive GHG footprint data for their specific farming operation.
"With that information, [farmers] can apply for programs that the USDA administers," said William Hohenstein, director of the USDA Climate Change Program Office. Hohenstein joined Bonnie in a press conference Tuesday to discuss the report.
Hohenstein estimates that the information will also help farmers better quantify the effects of sponsored conservation practices, like planting trees or adding buffer strips – things that can help sequester carbon, he said.
Though the information in the report is very technical, and may not always be directly consumed by farmers, Hohenstein said the report provides a place where all of the science regarding methods of GHG measurement can come together. He expects it to be integrated into existing or forthcoming USDA tools and programs.
"The important thing here is that [farmers] will have the confidence that the science underlying [USDA programs] has been peer-reviewed, it's been vetted," he said. "We're very interested in getting this report out into the field where it's going to be useful to our programs."
Not only does USDA expect the report to shape current USDA programs, it also plans to use the data to inform the development of new tools to help farmers quantify GHG emissions or participate in carbon markets.
One of the existing tools is the recently established Regional Climate Change Hubs, which assist landowners with management challenges that arise from weather variability and climate change.
The methods report and the tools provided in it will aid the Hubs in giving landowners information on management options to improve agriculture production, soil health, and resource conservation, USDA said.
Current USDA carbon tools, such as USDA's Carbon Management Evaluation Tool (COMET-Farm), are also being updated to incorporate the new methods.
USDA said using COMET-Farm, a land manager who is considering a shift to no-till production system, for example, can evaluate the soil carbon benefits of that system and consider revenue opportunities provided by entering into a voluntary agreement with a carbon market.
Bonnie said the report info could eventually be formed into a user-friendly tool much like COMET, where farmers answer questions about farm size, crop type and other variables to arrive at final estimates of carbon sequestration, GHG emissions and the reductions that changing farming practices can offer.
The methods in the report address a wide variety of cropland, grazing land, livestock and forest management practices, USDA says.
Download the report, Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory, online.
News source: USDA