The largest-ever US investment to fight climate change was signed into law this week. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is designed to enable the US to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. Interestingly, the IRA bestows significant nature-based funding solutions to support climate-smart agriculture.
The money designated in the IRA for agricultural smart-climate solutions incorporates about $19.5 billion for agricultural conservation and $5 billion for forest management, planning, and restoration activities for federal and non-federal forests, according to the Congressional Research Service. It also delegates $250 million for Tribal and Native Hawaiian adaptation and resilience.
Nature-based climate solutions enrich ecosystems, and we know that healthy and well-managed ecosystems reduce GHG emissions, secure safe water resources, make air safer to breathe, and provide food security.
Passé for too long, looking to nature is now a valued strategy to achieve hitting long term climate goals. No, nature-based climate solutions are not a substitute for decarbonizing our economy and energy sector. But they’re a complement so that we can hit more emissions reductions than we could otherwise accomplish.
The term “nature” embraces a variety of living plants and animals, geological processes, weather, and physics, such as matter and energy.
Nature can serve as a reminder that taking care of the land has added benefits to wildlife and human health. But respecting nature’s role in mitigating carbon emissions is two-fold. On the one hand, trees, wetlands, peatland, and other landscapes soak up massive amounts of carbon dioxide each year. But, on the other hand, climate change has reduced nature’s ability to hold onto carbon when wildfires burn, forests are razed, permafrost melts, or wetlands are drained.
Nature-based agricultural practices, though, can incorporate smarter farming practices so reaching climate goals is more realistic. The IRA addresses these hazards by devoting historic levels of funding to bolster new steps that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has outlined to improve nutrient management. Nutrient problems emerge through land mismanagement, resulting in GHG emissions that warm the planet.
What is Agricultural Nutrient Management?
Efficient use of nutrients can be achieved by selecting the right fertilizer product and applying the right amount at the right time and place to match plant needs and reduce nutrient losses, according to the USDA. In addition, applying manure and adopting a crop production management system to improve soil organic material, reduce pests, control soil moisture, and reduce soil erosion can enhance plant’s capability to uptake nutrients.
The NRCS has streamlined climate-smart agriculture initiatives to incentivize farmers to adopt nutrient management activities. The Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) key conservation programs are designed in a way that highlight the economic benefits of nutrient management planning for farmers.
A Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) is a whole farm, progressive document. A CNMP contains records of the current activities on a livestock operation, an evaluation of the existing environmental risks, and proposals to reduce the risk of negative impacts to the environment. The objective is to ensure both farm production and environmental goals — clean water, clean air, and healthy soils — are achieved on the farm.
A CNMP documents the steps a farmer has already taken to protect the environment; as well as identifying opportunities to further reduce risks to the quality of water, air, and soil resources. The objective is to balance the nutrients coming onto the farm with the nutrients leaving the farm. The plan documents agricultural wastes produced such as manure from livestock, milk room waste water, runoff from contaminated surfaces, animal mortalities, and seepage from silage piles.
If needed, the plan will provide a list of structural practices, such as waste storage facilities, which contain or treat agricultural wastes until they may be properly used on cropland.
This is some heavy shit (pun intended).
A sample Conservation Assistance in Connecticut protocol lists producer responsibilities within a Comprehensive Nutrient Plan.
- Determining cropping sequence and realistic yield goals for the crops produced
- Providing information about planned field operations for each crop
- Managing field operations to ensure soil loss from erosion is below established levels
- Testing soils for nutrient needs at least every 3 years and applying all nutrients (including compost, manures, and other organic products) in accordance with the University of Connecticut’s Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory recommendations
- Providing soil test results for plan development
- Providing a nutrient analysis of all agricultural wastes and other soil amendments containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium
- Reviewing soil test and nutrient analysis results and participating in nutrient management plan development with NRCS or other certified nutrient management specialists prior to fertilizer applications
- Calibrating application equipment to ensure agricultural wastes and other soil amendments are applied at the intended rate
- Observing all requirements for buffers and setbacks
- Providing records of all nutrient, mulch, or animal waste applications by field and amount applied
The USDA is increasing its technical assistance for nutrient management practices, including precision agriculture, with the goal of helping farmers more efficiently use fertilizer and reduce costs.
Human activities tip the scales by adding carbon to the air faster than the planet’s sinks can absorb it. By protecting nature, we can restore ecosystems while also maintaining the necessary economic growth so that biodiversity is saved. Biodiversity loss is proceeding so fast that some wild species could be lost forever, along with wild forests, grasslands, and other habitats that sustained them and that capture carbon.
As noted in a recent Washington Post article, by turning to nature, we can hit additional emissions reduction goals. In doing so, we take into account only the climate change benefits of protecting and restoring ecosystems, before even considering the benefits for local people, biodiversity, habitat, livelihoods, health, water, and agriculture.
No, the IRA does not include all the funding that supporters of nature-based solutions would want. There is still much work to do to highlight nature’s key role in tackling the climate crisis, showing that conserving biodiversity and carbon stocks in priority areas is crucial to meet the ambitious goals for both nature and climate.
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