COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke on Dec. 15 at the "Clean Energy Investments: Creating Opportunities for Rural Economies," climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. Although the causes and the validity of claims that the livestock industry is negatively impacting the environment, he indicated U.S.D.A. is moving forward with plans to curb greenhouse gases.

"Rural economies will benefit from incentives in comprehensive energy legislation that reward production of renewable energy and sequestration of greenhouse gases," Mr. Vilsack said.

Some claim climate change is one of the great challenges facing the U.S. and the world. But for U.S. farmers, ranchers and those who make a living off the land, this challenge presents unprecedented opportunities, Mr. Vilsack said.

He explained how the U.S. administration is actively partnering with rural communities to create solutions for curbing greenhouse gases and preventing the worst impacts of climate change. At the event, farmers revealed how a viable carbon offsets market — one that rewards farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for stewardship activities — will play a very important role in helping the U.S. reduce its dependence on oil.

On Dec. 14, U.S.D.A. released a report outlining the impact climate change will have on U.S. ecosystems. Click
here to see the report.

"Yesterday, the U.S.D.A. released ‘The Effects of Climate Change on U.S. Ecosystems,’ a report that identifies the effects of climate change on natural resources and ecosystems services in the U.S. over the next several decades," Mr. Vilsack said. "Based on a wealth of source and review literature, the report concludes that climate change is already affecting U.S. agriculture, land resources, water resources and biodiversity, and will continue to do so."

The report identifies the effects climate is having and is expected to have on natural resources and ecosystems services in the U.S. over the next several decades. For instance, livestock mortality will decrease with warmer winters; however this will be more than offset by greater mortality during hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals due to changes in consumption and lower pregnancy rates.

Mr. Vilsack said agriculture has tremendous capacity to not only limit its greenhouse gas emissions, but to act as a carbon sink.

"Through research efforts and program support we are helping producers minimize their carbon footprint every day," he said. "A viable carbon offsets market — one that rewards farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners for stewardship activities — has the potential to play a very important role in helping America become energy independent, and in our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Legislation passed by the House of Representatives and under consideration in the Senate will create a market for carbon offsets that can be sold by America's farmers, ranchers and landowners to businesses that are large carbon emitters, he said.

"U.S.D.A.'s analysis of the legislation shows that it will be a net gain for America's producers," he said. "A U.S.D.A. study found that the House climate bill would increase farm expenses by $700 million, or 0.3%, from 2012-18, which would be offset by revenue from a carbon offset market, estimated by U.S.D.A. at $1 billion a year in the near term and $15 billion in 2040."

"Today [Dec. 15], the U.S.D.A. and U.S. dairy farmers are announcing that we are entering into an historic agreement to help accelerate the development of manure to energy systems and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Mr. Vilsack said. "We know that anaerobic digesters that convert animal manure into electricity are a powerful renewable resource. One 700 head dairy herd can power 200 homes with electricity.

"Yet, currently the United States is only utilizing dairy power on 2% of the farms that serve as candidates for profitable and sustainable sources of energy," he added.

"The U.S. dairy industry has committed to a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas by the year 2020," he continued. "U.S.D.A. can support this goal through program modifications, added program enhancements and better marketing of anaerobic digesters to dairymen. Although U.S.D.A. operates programs that support anaerobic digesters, less than 150 have been funded by U.S.D.A. to date."