The agriculture sector is a major source of the greenhouse gasses (GHG) that are causing climate change, accounting for approximately 10 percent of U.S. GHG emissions. Proponents of “climate-smart” agriculture look to provide farmers and ranchers with financial incentives to encourage practices such as planting cover crops, reducing tillage, and improving pasture management to sequester carbon in soils, and livestock feed and nutrient management practices to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
Due to the Biden administration’s commitment to “climate-smart” agriculture and accompanying Congressional support, the U.S. agricultural sector is poised to reduce its carbon footprint and make major contributions to combating climate change. However, critical improvements in carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide measurement and monitoring protocols and data sharing are needed to realize the full potential of climate-smart agriculture. Current models and soil sampling protocols utilized by the USDA are imprecise, impractical and/or do not take advantage of newly available technologies. In addition, there has been significantly less attention to identifying climate-smart practices and developing related measurement and monitoring protocols that target methane and nitrous oxide emissions–which together account for 90 percent of the agricultural sector’s carbon footprint. Also, publicly-financed agricultural measurement and monitoring data are not readily available to researchers, and an increasing number of proprietary software products are limiting the availability of data that have industry-wide importance.
The report makes a number of specific recommendations to the USDA and the White House including launching and prioritizing the funding for a USDA Ag-Methane Reduction Initiative and a Nitrous Oxide Demonstration Project that will accelerate the adoption of agricultural practices and measurement and monitoring data protocols for methane and nitrous oxide; launching a two-phase national Soil Carbon Measurement and Monitoring Plan; establishing a Climate-Smart Protocol Clearinghouse that creates a consolidated public inventory of protocols used in the agricultural sector to measure and monitor carbon removal and methane and nitrous oxide reductions; and establishing an Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Data Management System that would set up a professionally managed data management system that will serve as a repository of greenhouse gas measurement and monitoring data and facilitate the collection of data in formats that enable benchmarking and validation without compromising farmer privacy interests.
The Bezos Earth Fund commissioned preparation of this report with David J. Hayes in cooperation with Stanford Law School’s Law & Policy Lab.