Bonner Springs The U.S. Department of Agriculture will begin rewarding farmers and ranchers whose practices help reduce greenhouse gases, Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced Friday.
Veneman said the department would consider greenhouse gas management practices when evaluating applications for conservation grants and subsidies. The department also will offer technical assistance, demonstrations and pilot programs.
"This is good for the environment and it is good for agriculture," Veneman said.
Greenhouse gases, which are widely seen as contributing most to global climate change, can be reduced through carbon sequestration -- the natural process by which carbon in the air (carbon dioxide) is turned into stored soil carbon. Plants use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis and as the plants die, the carbon-based leaves, stems and roots decay in the soil. The process improves the soil's quality, making it more fertile and more drought-resistant.
Farmers can increase carbon sequestration by tilling less; increasing crop rotation; adding buffer strips; reducing soil erosion; using crops like corn and wheat that leave high amounts of residue in the soil; using cover crops; and selecting plant varieties that store more carbon.
Ranchers can increase carbon sequestration by improving forage quality and reducing overgrazing.
The department is seeking input on measurements to assess the success of the efforts, Veneman said, and hopes to have the new accounting rules completed by January 2004.
Veneman did not disclose how much would be made available to encourage measures that capture carbon dioxide. But she said the money would come from funding already available to the department.
Veneman said the potential economic impact to farmers and ranchers is "hard to judge at this point."
Overall, the Agriculture Department will invest almost $3.9 billion in agriculture and forest conservation on private land next year, an increase of $1.7 billion compared to 2001. USDA estimates increased conservation investments and the focus on carbon sequestration efforts will reduce and sequester more than 12 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year by 2012.
Veneman made the announcement at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in suburban Kansas City, where she was joined by Kansas Republican Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore and Charles Rice, a Kansas State University agronomy professor.
Roberts said he and his staff sometimes explained the process of carbon sequestration to urban audiences this way: "Carbon in the air: bad. Carbon in the land: good."
"Agriculture can answer the problem of climate change while feeding a troubled and hungry world," Roberts added.