By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy

Climate Column readers know that there are many things farmers can do to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), housed within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), offers farmers technical and financial support to abate climate change and become more climate resilient on a voluntary, competitive basis. In every state throughout the U.S., a State Conservationist considers the advice of bodies like the State Technical Committee to identify key conservation priorities. NRCS in that state levels resources and programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) on these conservation challenges, allowing farmers more support for practices and management decisions that work toward the state priorities. These practices and decisions frequently carry a positive impact for the climate, in addition to the priorities set by NRCS for the state.  For example, setting water quality or soil health as a statewide priority could encourage conservation tillage and precision nutrient applications that store atmospheric carbon in the soil and reduce nitrous oxide emissions while also preventing nutrient runoff into surface water and building healthy soils. 

A 2016 guide from the Arizona Department of Agriculture reports that agriculture contributes more than $17 billion to the state’s economy. Production systems and agriculture products of significance are diverse, but a paper  from researchers at Arizona State University predicted that every one degree Celsius temperature increase over baseline could result in yield decreases of up to 12.2% across major crops.

In Arizona, enhancing habitat for wildlife and increasing game populations have been identified as strong priorities by NRCS. While the connection between wildlife habitat and climate change mitigation may not be immediately apparent, the vegetation deployed to increase habitat can store atmospheric carbon as well as entice hunters onto a producer’s ground, allowing the farmer to diversify income by working with NRCS. In certain some cases, farmers might also reduce their need for irrigation by strategically installing habitat. Arizona producers can consider working lands programs EQIP to enhance habitat where they farm, as well as easement programs that result in purchasing or renting use and development rights from farmers.  

Would adding revenue from hunting, enhanced by collaborating with NRCS, help diversify revenue on your farm? Cornell Cooperative Extension offers resources to farmers thinking about adding an agritourism venture to their working farms. Such efforts have great capacity to achieve climate and business goals more effectively through collaboration; a few adjacent producers could collaborate on managing shared habitat and share responsibility for a hunting venture. Farmers can come together with farm organizations to see the process of climate-smart agriculture from implementation of beneficial practices all the way through marketing the resulting products. Stay tuned in future week as we discuss state-by-state conservation goals and opportunities. 

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