U.S. agriculture agency extends climate funding to small farmers

By Leah Douglas

WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture will distribute an additional $325 million in funding for projects tailored to smaller-scale farmers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, taking its total annual investment in climate-friendly farming to more than $3 billion, the agency announced Monday.

USDA's efforts are part of a broader Biden administration goal to cut emissions across the U.S. economy and are targeting the approximately 10% of U.S. emissions generated from farming annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Reuters that a key goal of the program is to enable more farmers to serve the growing consumer market for sustainably produced food.

"We want to encourage farmers and producers to accelerate use of these practices and we want the market to recognize and value work," he said.

The money will fund 71 projects ranging from $250,000 to just under $5 million and which will aid small and historically underserved farmers in adopting and assessing lower-emission farming practices.

The funded groups include Black farmer associations, Native American tribes and organizations that serve women, veteran and beginning farmers.

Some of the projects will monitor and verify the benefits of climate-friendly farm practices like rotating crops, installing solar panels in farm fields and reducing fertilizer application. Others will provide technical assistance to help farmers adopt new practices and skills.

The project funds will come from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), a pool of money provided by the U.S. Treasury to support the farm economy, as did funding for a $2.8 billion round of funding for 70 climate-friendly farm projects between $5 million and $100 million the agency announced in September.

Republican representative G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania, incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has argued USDA's use of CCC money for the projects is outside of its authority and has said he will audit the program, according to a Politico report. Thompson's office did not respond to a request to confirm the report.

Vilsack told Reuters he is not concerned about a potential audit.

"We're helping to create a market opportunity for farmers, which is precisely what the CCC was designed to do," he said. (Reporting by Leah Douglas in Washington; Editing by Josie Kao)