Farm Progress

Vilsack announces new Climate-Smart Commodities program funding

The Secretary of Agriculture announced $325 million in federal grants for climate initiatives benefitting small producers and underserved communities.

Joshua Baethge

December 13, 2022

3 Min Read
solar and climate-smart farming
CLIMATE SMART PROJECTS: USDA has announced more funding for climate-smart farming research and programs. The latest focused is on underserved markets including photovoltaics in regions where they've not been installed in the past.Thomas Winz/Getty Images Plus

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Monday that the Biden administration would allocate $325 million to 71 projects as part of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program. He says that the programs will be spread across all 50 states, and all commodities will be represented.

The announcement was made at Tuskegee University in Alabama, which will receive nearly $5 million to support expanding participation of marginal producers and landowners to promote climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices.

The grants are part of the USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Partnership initiative. In September, the department announced $2.8 billion in funding for large grant projects. These initial 70 projects were awarded anywhere from $5 million to $250 million, with the money to be allocated over a three-to-five-year perils.

This second round of funding targets smaller projects intended to benefit small and underserved products. Funding for them will range from $250,000 to $5 million per project.

“I think it’s fair to say that farmers, ranchers and producers and forest and landowners all across the United States recognized and appreciate the risks and challenges that they face as the result of a changing climate,” Vilsack says. “And we also know that far too often those risks and challenges affect farmers, small-sized farming operations, and those who have been historically underserved perhaps a bit harder than others.”

Before unveiling the program, Vilsack says USDA solicited feedback from farmers, ranchers and forested landowners. According to him, those stakeholders were generally supportive of climate-smart practices. However, they voiced concerns about the risks and costs involved. There was also an overwhelming sentiment that any program be voluntary, incentive-based and market-driven. Many stakeholders also emphasized the need for programs that were supported by climate science, with results that could be quantified.

“We believe by creating this opportunity that we could support the acceleration of an adoption of climate-smart practices on our farms and our ranches and our orchard and our forests.,” Vilsack says. “We believe strongly that by working in partnership and collaboration, we can develop new market opportunities for these new climate-smart agricultural and forest products, creating a new value-added opportunity for producers.”

Examples of climate-smart approaches

One of those receiving funding in this latest round of grants is the InterTribal Buffalo Council. It will distribute $4.95 million to 79 native American tribes across 20 states managing over 34 million acres. Those tribes run over 20,000 buffalo.

The money will be used to incentivize climate-smart practices related to buffalo heards. It will help develop sustainable programs to historically underserved tribal buffalo producers and assist in the creation of a tribal education and outreach strategies.

Troy Heinert, the executive director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, says the program will allow the tribe to quantify the effect of buffalo on the landscape. Tribes will use indigenous knowledge to manage their buffalo by allowing them to roam the landscape. The grant will also help tribes market their own buffalo. It’s something most reservations can’t currently do, meaning buffalo must be taken by truck a great distance to be processed.

“This grant is going to allow us to change that,” Heinert says. “We will not be such an extractive economy any longer on our reservations.”

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, a predominately Hispanic university located near the Mexican border, received $2.29 million toward a solar power initiative. They will be testing “agrivoltaics” which incorporates solar power generation into agricultural locations. It is expected to benefit many underserved farmers and ranchers in the area.

“We’re very used to seeing solar panels is residential areas, but more and more solar panels are going to rural areas,” Engil Pereira, an assistant professor of earth sciences at the university said. “We have to come up with metrics to ensure that this technology will benefit the farmers, agriculture, food production, and energy security.”

According to the USDA, more than 1,000 proposals were submitted to be considered for Climate-Smart Commodities funding.

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