Tom Vilsack on how agriculture can be part of climate solution

Secretary Vilsack pointed to past increases in efficiency of US farming, which since the 1970s have cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half in total crops per acre.

In the United States, around 7% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from the way we raise and grow food – and some argue the percentage is even higher. A new program aims to reduce such emissions, according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack announced in late 2009 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or the USDA, will partner with American dairy farmers to help them convert animal manure into energy.

In this program, the methane found in animal waste will be used to generate electricity. This prevents methane from entering the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. Vilsack said that manure is converted to electricity with what’s called anaerobic digester technology – manure is broken down and used to power generators. Large commercial farms that currently use this technology typically make enough to power 200 homes, or even run farm operations.

Currently, only a small percentage of U.S. dairies are equipped with anaerobic digesters. Vilsack said this number will increase, to help the USDA meet its goal to reduce 25 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. As Vilsack noted at a recent climate meeting:

Tom Vilsack: The USDA stands ready to partner with American agriculture to make sure that there are resources and incentives to get the job done as quickly, efficiently, and effectively as possible.

Secretary Vilsack pointed to past increases in efficiency of US farming, which since the 1970s have cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half in total crops per acre.

Tom Vilsack: U.S. Agriculture, because of the work that’s already been done by American farmers, we have a track record of reducing energy usage and our greenhouse gas usage. So we are now seven percent of emissions, but we represent, in agriculture and forestry, 20 to 25 percent of the solution. And American agriculture, I think, stands ready to contribute its ability to respond to climate change because it recognizes that climate is directly related to their capacity to be productive.

Vilsack explained that as Earth’s warming begins to impact agriculture, the agriculture industry can simultaneously work to lessen the severity of global warming.

Jorge Salazar