MSU helps shape USDA greenhouse gas policy

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report that, for the first time, provides uniform scientific methods for quantifying the changes in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage from various land management and conservation activities.

“America’s farm, ranch and forest managers are stewards of the land and have long recognized the significance of managing soil health, plant productivity and animal nutrition,” said Robert Bonnie, USDA undersecretary for natural resources and environment. “Conservation practices and other management changes can reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon storage while improving soil health, productivity, and resilience to drought and other extreme weather.”

In partnership with the USDA and the Obama Administration, state and regional GHG offset programs and voluntary GHG markets can help make these practices cheaper to implement and increase the producer’s bottom line, he added.

The report will help the USDA evaluate current and future greenhouse gas conservation programs, as well as develop new tools and update existing ones to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participate in emerging carbon markets.

Michigan State University researchers contributed to shaping the USDA’s report. They include: Phil Robertson, director of MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station’s Long-term Ecological Research Program and professor of plant, soil, and microbial sciences; Wendy Powers-Schilling, professor of animal science; and David Skole, professor of forestry.

“With the release of the National Climate Assessment earlier this year, it's clear that agriculture will be affected by climate change,” said Robertson. “The USDA’s report makes it clear that agriculture can also be part of the solution. For the first time, we have a comprehensive means for measuring how agriculture and forestry affect climate and how they can contribute to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report outlines science-based methods for quantifying changes in GHG emissions and carbon storage at local farms, ranches or forest operations. Reducing GHG emissions and increasing carbon storage builds healthy, carbon-rich soils and more resilient production of food, fiber and fuel.

“Both managed and natural forests can play an important role in climate change mitigation by sequestering excess carbon from the atmosphere,” Skole said. “This technical guide lays the foundation for landowners and land managers to measure the amount of carbon sequestered and stored in their forest land, allowing individual landowners to better participate in the process of reducing climate change impacts.”

The report was the work of a committee of experts and represents one of the most transparent and scientifically rigorous assessments of methods for greenhouse gas measurement and reporting produced by the federal government, Powers-Schilling added.

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