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December 16, 2009

USDA Needs a New Climate Playbook
Paula Crossfield has an excellent piece in Civil Eats on food, agriculture and climate change:
Around one third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the way we produce, process, distribute and consume the food we eat according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Meanwhile, farmers the world over will be the most affected by climate change, as higher carbon in the atmosphere and higher temperatures increase erratic weather patterns, pests, and disease occurrence, while decreasing water availability, disrupting relationships with pollinators and lowering yield and the efficacy of herbicides like glyphosate (aka Round-Up) -- all detailed in a revealing new report from the USDA called The Effects of Climate Change on U.S. Ecosystems [pdf].
She then goes on to observe that, for all the benefits of having the USDA 100% behind climate mitigation, the techniques USDA Chief Tom Vilsack endorsed during his speech in Copenhagen can be deeply problematic if incorrectly implemented.

Vilsack talked up no-till farming, carbon markets, genetically engineered crops and ethanol. All of these techniques are either of questionable value as climate mitigators or come with serious negative consequences for soil and water quality. Sadly, the USDA continues to ignore agro-ecological techniques for addressing climate change -- techniques with a proven ability to build soil quality and sequester carbon and which places like the Rodale Institute have spent decades perfecting and studying. Agribusiness has a stranglehold on the USDA for sure. But they don't have a stranglehold on the facts. It would be nice if Vilsack and other members of the administration finally recognized that.

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