An Iowa soybean field

"ISA is helping farmers develop and implement agricultural systems, strategies, and long-term mitigation efforts that scale up and accelerate soil health and water conservation across Iowa farmland," ISA told USDA in a letter this week.

ISA weighs in on proposed climate smart ag program

November 4, 2021 | Bethany Baratta

The Iowa Soybean Association supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) development of a Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Program if sound science and adequate financial support are pieces of the program.

ISA responded to the USDA’s request for comments relating to the creation of the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Program (CSAFP), which is a part of the agency’s overall climate change strategy. 

USDA is considering actions to expand the use of climate-smart farming practices and aid in the marketing of agricultural commodities. The term “climate-smart commodity” is used to refer to an agricultural commodity that is produced using farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon, according to the USDA.

“We urge the USDA to consider a model that would support private marketplace delivery of programing to farmers in order to produce greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions and soil carbon sequestration,” ISA said in the letter to USDA’s Robert Ibarra. “Underpinning any retooling of existing working lands programs or creation of new programs should focus on farmer access to market opportunities, sound science, technological advancements, streamlined enrollment, and provide adequate financial support to drive and scale up environmental outcome production.” 

ISA’s comments will be used to test development of a Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Program that could encourage adoption of CSAF practices and promote markets for climate-smart commodities.

ISA reiterated that the association is home to a suite of programs that provides information and assistance to help farmers expand the use of climate-smart farming practices, and ultimately, be more competitive in the marketing of soybeans and other commodities.

“Recognizing that healthy soils are critical to mitigating climate change and increasing resiliency on the farm, ISA is helping farmers develop and implement agricultural systems, strategies, and long-term mitigation efforts that scale up and accelerate soil health and water conservation across Iowa farmland,” the letter says.

As an example, ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI) combines agronomic, conservation, and analytics tailored for soybean farmers. The RCFI is delivering innovative research, tools, and technical support to assist farmers when considering big picture management decisions for short- and long-term sustainability and profitability.

To further cost-effective solutions for soil and water stewardship, ISA launched AgOutcomes and the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund in 2020 to expand the trusted partnership between Midwestern farmers and public-private beneficiaries, while also providing financial incentives to those who adopt on-farm conservation practices that yield positive environmental outcomes like carbon sequestration and water quality improvement. In its first year of implementation, the Outcomes Fund provided financial incentives to farmers implementing conservation practices across 10,000 acres of Iowa cropland. The program expanded in 2021. 

Standardization recommendation 

Iowa is home to 11 biodiesel plants and is the top biodiesel-producing state in the nation. One of the main feedstocks for those biodiesel plants is soybean oil, made largely from Iowa-grown soybeans. In its 10-page response to USDA’s questions, ISA said it supports the Department working to understand, capture, and promote the full environmental benefits of biodiesel and other renewable energy sources.

ISA recommends that USDA consider the development of methods to assign changes in soil organic carbon to specific practices and crop rotations versus single crop planting through a standardized measurement and verification program nationally.

“The biggest impact from agriculture is that we can introduce additional soil organic carbon sequestration into the carbon intensity of the products that are produced, such as biodiesel and renewable diesel,” ISA said. “A federal program which creates a standardized measurement of carbon storage would provide certainty and fairness as producers enter current and future carbon markets and would allow biofuels producers to accurately account for their carbon intensity.”

Read the letter: Iowa Soybean Association Response to USDA CSAF Partnership Program RFI - USDA-2021-0010.pdf