2030 Finance | April 27, 2015

USDA: Investments in Agriculture and Forestry Yield Climate Solutions

The team at


Farmland may be even more important than factories when it comes to finding solutions to climate change.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, with public and private partners, last week announced actions to help the agriculture sector mitigate its carbon emissions and adapt to the long-term effects of climate change. The expected impact: a reduction of two percent in net carbon emissions, economy-wide, by 2025.

“Farmers, ranchers and forest land owners and managers are in the climate solutions business,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at Michigan State University, citing biofuels, renewable energy systems, climate research and other conservation techniques.

The set of voluntary and incentive-based initiatives are part of a strategy of “climate smart” practices to promote soil health, improve nutrient management, and conserve and enhance forest resources on private and public lands—practices that support resilience to extreme weather and carry multiple economic and environmental benefits.

“We can fight climate in a way that is good for our economy and good for our planet,” said Brian Deese, a senior advisor to President Obama, who said USDA will use authorities from the 2014 Farm Bill to implement the plan. “It requires no new legislation, no new incremental expenditure of federal dollars. What it requires is creativity, commitment, and partnership.”

[blockquote author=”President Obama” pull=”pullleft”]Tackling climate change isn’t just an economic and health imperative—it also represents one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.[/blockquote]

Investors are already stepping up. Vilsack cited Equilibrium Capital Group‘s Wastewater Opportunity Strategy, which he called “an effort to accelerate the development and growth of bio-digesters and bio-gas facilities that convert food and farm waste into productive economic value in rural communities.” Equilibrium, joined by Church Pension Group, an investment arm of the Episcopal Church, expects the first phase of the strategy, each year, to process more than 150 million gallons of wastewater, generate more than 350 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2 million tons.

“Secretary Vilsack has gone out and made the USDA a partner with private capital to highlight the investment opportunity. You have carbon, you have infrastructure, there are a ton of great opportunities,” said Dave Chen, Equilibrium’s CEO. “These are hot, hot investment ideas in a resource constrained world.”

Longtime forest conservation investor Lyme Timber Co. announced that it will list 46,500 acres of Florida timberland with the California Air Resources Board, which administers the state’s mandatory carbon market. California-based greenhouse gas emitters, such as oil and gas producers can purchase out-of-state carbon offset credits to offset a portion of their carbon emissions. Lyme’s Florida holdings provide sustainably harvested wood to local sawmills, create jobs in economically-distressed areas, and act as a natural buffer against sea-level rise and storm surges.

The 10 “building blocks” of the USDA strategy are: soil health, nitrogen stewardship, livestock partnerships, conservation of sensitive lands, grazing and pasture lands, private forest growth and retention, stewardship of federal forests, promotion of wood products, urban forests and energy generation and efficiency.

The USDA plan is part of a broader Obama Administration commitment, announced in China last year, to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. “Tackling climate change isn’t just an economic and health imperative—it also represents one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century,” President Obama said in a recent interview with National Geographic.

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