Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has received an $80 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. Curbing climate change gases.
Virginia Tech will distribute at least $54 million directly to producers to implement these climate-smart agricultural practices for crop and livestock production. The grant, the largest in the university’s history, will create a three-year pilot program in Virginia, Arkansas, Minnesota and North Dakota that will test the feasibility of rolling out a similar program nationally. If expanded nationally, the program could help producers reduce agricultural emissions by 55 percent, or 8 percent of total emissions in the United States, after 10 years.
“We are proud to lead this effort, which encourages agricultural producers to adopt climate-smart practices and financial resources,” said the project’s principal investigator, Tom Thompson, associate dean of the college, global director of CALS. Professor. “This is a watershed program that will help the agricultural industry become a leader in addressing climate change.”
According to Thompson, credit for the pilot concept is a RIPE (Rural Investment in Protecting Our Environment) Virginia Tech partner pilot program, and the project is known as the RIPE Partnership.
The pilot program offers producers $100 per acre or unit of animal to voluntarily adopt climate-smart practices for public environmental benefits. Unlike previous cost-sharing programs that place some of the financial burden on producers of climate-smart practices, this program pays producers more than the costs of implementing these practices, while also improving their bottom lines. In addition to RIPE, 15 regional and national organizations help implement the RIPE partnership.
The RIPE partnership pilot will reach approximately 5,200 jobs on up to 600,000 hectares in the first four states. If expanded nationally, up to 80 percent of agricultural producers could be enrolled in the program, which would have a significant impact on global carbon emissions. Currently, only 3 percent of manufacturers participate in carbon reduction programs.
To address climate change, the project aims to increase agricultural productivity to feed a world population expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050.
“Since Virginia Tech’s founding 150 years ago, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been a driving force behind the innovation and implementation of best practices that have helped the agriculture industry grow,” said Dean of the College Alan Grant. “As we strive to serve our communities by leveraging our time and expertise, this pilot program is at the heart of our land grant mission to help them thrive now and for generations to come.”
Manufacturers can market their climate-smart products to the US public with certifications that have tracking numbers. Informed through a series of roundtables, the tracking system includes information needed by commodity buyers to achieve their sustainability goals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is “delivering on our commitment to build and expand these market opportunities for American agriculture and become global leaders in climate-smart agricultural production,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a recent announcement of $2.8 billion in funding. 70 Climate-Smart Projects “This effort will increase the competitiveness of American agriculture both domestically and globally, build lasting wealth in rural communities, and support a diverse range of producers and practices.
In Virginia, the college is running the program in partnership with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia State University. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provided support for the grant application.
A website will be available in the next few months to allow producers in the pilot states to apply and enroll in the program.
Virginia Tech researchers develop a model that selects participants to ensure program diversity. At least 40 percent of the participants will be low-service and small producers, at least 2,100 jobs will be created. At least 630 socially disadvantaged or resource-limited producers will participate in the pilot project.
The grant provides $2 million to both Minnesota and Virginia to implement high-value, high-cost climate-smart practices at animal feed operations. The pilot’s immediate impact will be an estimated greenhouse gas benefit of 320,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and a total environmental cost of $220 million. The national program assumes that multiple climate-smart practices applied to a single cropland and livestock after ten years would generate $440 billion in total environmental benefits, with a benefit-to-cost ratio of 5:1. the program.
Producers receive 50 percent up front, 25 percent after implementation and 25 percent after the final report is completed. Producers with limited resources may qualify for a 100 percent down payment.
The program relies heavily on Virginia Tech research and programs, including the Global Agricultural Productivity Report (GAP Report) and insights from experts in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and the School of Animal Sciences.
The three-year pilot program will be rigorously monitored to ensure that the marketing costs associated with implementing climate-smart initiatives are reduced and that there are few barriers to manufacturers implementing such initiatives. Virginia Tech researchers will track greenhouse gas savings as the initiative is implemented, measure the benefits of other environmental impacts such as soil erosion, and examine consumers’ willingness to pay for products with climate-smart labels.
Some of the climate-smart practices in the program include:
- Crop practices; cover crops; no-till until reduced; substance management, including proper substance management; Conservation crop rotation; silpopasture; Protection of watershed forests; Riparian vegetation cover.
- Rice habits: Surviving management, no-till; Surviving management, reduced to; Irrigation water management: alternate wetting and drying of water conservation in rice; Conservation crop rotation; Nutrient management including proper application and/or advanced formulations.
- Animal husbandry; Comprehensive food and manure management planning and implementation; Roofs and covers; waste separation facility; Food handling to reduce emissions; Prescribed grazing; Nutrition management; silpopasture.
Each state that participates in the program works in cooperation with environmental protection districts and in cooperation with organizations to ensure that unsustainable producers are part of the program. Virginia Tech works to ensure that program enrollment is statistically representative of the diversity of agricultural occupations in each state.
If this project is approved nationally, Congress could set a goal for further reductions at the minimum level and authorize USDA to increase payment terms for the adoption of the new system without creating an incentive to delay adoption.
“This is an extremely exciting time to be involved in agriculture,” said Thompson. “Farmers are our earth’s greatest stewards, and American agriculture has long been a powerhouse of productivity. This pilot program will help them continue for generations.
At Virginia Tech, faculty participating in the project include:
- Tom Thompson, Associate Dean and Global Director of CALS, Prof
- Ann Stensland, GAP Report Initiative Leader, CALS Global
- Johanna Crescenti, Aid Specialist, CALS Global
- Matt Holt, Professor and Head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
- Elinor Benami, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
- Wei Zhang, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
- John Bowie, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
- Ford Ramsey, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
- Chi Ta, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
- Robin White, Associate Professor, School of Animal Sciences
Nationally, pilot program partners include:
- Rural Investment in Protecting Our Environment (RIPE)
- Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
- North Dakota Farmers Union
- Minnesota Water and Soil Resources Board
- Arkansas Department of Agriculture
- field to market
- Sustainable food lab
- Supporters of agricultural research
- Environmental initiatives
- Arkansas Council of Agriculture
- Arkansas Rice Federation
- Minnesota Farmers Union
- Minnesota State Cattle Association
- Minnesota Soil Health Coalition
- National Association of Conservation Districts
- National Council of Black Growers