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Vilsack: USDA taking steps to address climate change

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discusses how the USDA can help the country adapt to environmental challenges in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday. At right are National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane of Bloomberg News, and Christie Vilsack, senior international education adviser at U. S. Agency for International Development and Vilsack’s wife. (USDA/Bob Nichols)


The Agriculture Department is proceeding with a wide range of initiatives to fight climate change and maintain the nation’s food supply, but it will not propose legislation to address the issue, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.

“I'm the Secretary of Agriculture, and I am not here today to give a scientific lecture on climate change. I’m here to tell you what we're seeing on the ground,” Vilsack said to an audience of reporters and farm lobbyists at a National Press Club luncheon.

“We’re seeing more severe storms. We’re facing more invasive species. More intense forest fire threatens communities each year,” he said.

“[The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] reported that 2012 was the second most intense year in our history for extreme weather events — droughts, flooding, hurricanes, severe storms and devastating wildfire. NOAA also advised that last year was the warmest on record for the continental United States.”

Vilsack noted that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service have fought threats to U.S. agricultural productivity since the 1930s, “but the latest science tells us that the threat of a changing climate is new and different from anything we've ever tackled.”

If members of Congress do not believe climate change is taking place, he said, he would be willing to prove it by taking them on tours of the forested areas of the country where warming temperatures are allowing beetles to thrive and cause damage.

“Due to warmer temperatures they transfer from tree to tree,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack said that USDA will establish seven “Regional Climate Hubs” to work with producers and foresters to provide regional data and interpret climate change forecasts to help agriculture adapt and plan for hazards, and for better natural resource management. The seven regional hubs will be established for the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Northern Plains, Southern Plains, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest.

USDA released the “Carbon Management and Evaluation Tool,” also known as COMET-FARM, a free online tool that will help producers calculate how much carbon their land’s soil and vegetation can remove from the atmosphere. The system works with all agricultural lands in the lower 48 states.

USDA has also released data collected under the Rapid Assessment of U.S. Soil Carbon program, and brought its agencies together to establish common positions on cover crops, he said.

Vilsack said the research title of the farm bill is vital to continuing research on climate change and urged Congress to pass the bill quickly.

USDA released a transcript of Vilsack’s speech and a video to illustrate it.