FAQs: Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities and Inflation Reduction Act Funding
1. How can agriculture be part of the climate solution?
Agricultural producers, ranchers, and forest landowners play a critical role in environmental stewardship. The Inflation Reduction Act provides historic investments to support producers in adopting climate-smart practices that can sequester carbon and reduce key greenhouse gas emissions like nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide. These practices include nutrient management, cover crops, reduced tillage, tree planting, forest stand improvement, and livestock management.
2. How long will Inflation Reduction Act funds be available?
Inflation Reduction Act funds began in fiscal year 2023. Most of the program funding will be available in the first four years with implementation on conservation practices expected to take several years to complete. All conservation practice implementation with Inflation Reduction Act funding must be finalized by September 30, 2031.
3. What is the significance of Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities for implementing Inflation Reduction Act funding?
The conservation activities on the NRCS Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities List can provide climate change mitigation benefits. These activities are eligible to receive funding through the Inflation Reduction Act because, based on scientific literature, they are expected to directly improve soil carbon; reduce nitrogen losses; or reduce, capture, avoid, or sequester carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide emissions associated with agricultural production. The Inflation Reduction Act provides $19.5 billion in additional funding to existing conservation programs already popular with producers, like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), to implement climate-smart mitigation practices. Inflation Reduction Act funds may also be used for facilitating practices that support the management or the function of Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities.
4. What is considered a “Climate-Smart Mitigation Activity”?
A Climate-Smart Mitigation Activity is an activity (conservation practice or enhancement) that, when implemented appropriately, can result in reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or increases in carbon sequestration. They are included in the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities List.
5. How does NRCS estimate the impact of Climate-Smart Mitigation Activities?
NRCS uses methodologies such as those used in COMET-Planner to quantitatively estimate the potential mitigation benefits of a practice and determine the potential impact of these Inflation Reduction Act investments.
6. What is the process NRCS uses for adding or removing practices on the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities List?
Each year, NRCS considers and evaluates the practices on the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities List. Throughout the year, NRCS receives feedback from partners and staff, which is used to identify practices for consideration to be removed or added. Using this feedback, the NRCS Climate Office works with subject matter experts, including the NRCS National Discipline Leads (such as the National Agronomist, National Environmental Engineer, and National Air Quality Specialist), to review feedback and literature and prioritize practices that would be most suitable for consideration. Evaluation teams, composed of employees across NRCS and an external-to-NRCS USDA participant, evaluate the practice based on the identified criteria and available scientific literature for the practice. Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities are evaluated against two main criteria: (1) The activity must result in a direct impact on net greenhouse gas emission reduction or removal within a given scope as supported by the scientific literature, and (2) NRCS must have a science-based methodology for quantitatively estimating mitigation benefits using available NRCS activity data. Evaluation team recommendations for removals or additions are then presented to NRCS leadership for final approval for the next fiscal year. The NRCS Climate Office will continue to refine this approach to be sure it is both science-based and incorporates locally led feedback where possible.
7. Why was Upland Wildlife Habitat Management (Code 645) removed from the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities List?
Upland Wildlife Habitat Management (Code 645) was historically included as a Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activity due to a nominal mitigation benefit associated with improvements to and establishment of vegetation plantings for improving upland wildlife habitat. Currently, this practice is limited to management activities that are not included in other practices, such as habitat monitoring and management. As such, it would currently not be used to establish vegetation (other than seasonal, typically annual cover). While Upland Wildlife Habitat Management (Code 645) may guide the implementation of certain other practices, it is not the practice through which implementation occurs and to which mitigation benefits could be attributed. Vegetation establishment components previously under Upland Wildlife Habitat Management are currently implemented instead under Wildlife Habitat Planting (Code 420) or Conservation Cover (Code 327), which are currently recognized as Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities.
8. Under what circumstances will IRA funds be used to fund irrigation activities?
Several irrigation practices were added with the expectation that when implemented consistent with their specified narrative, they can result in energy savings that, in most cases, would lead to emission reductions. In order to provide the expected emissions reductions, these practices are only applicable when changes are made to an existing system that is powered by a fossil fuel-based energy source. The practices are not to be used for implementation of a new irrigation system and must not result in increased irrigated acres. Planners must take into account local energy sources when planning the practice as a Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activity to ensure that the existing system is powered by a fossil fuel-based energy source.
9. What is the difference between climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation?
Climate change mitigation addresses the root causes of climate change, while adaptation focuses on resilience to the consequences of climate change. Mitigation is making the impacts of climate change less severe by preventing or reducing the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Adaptation is the process of adjusting to the current and future effects of climate change. While the Inflation Reduction Act requires funds to be used for climate change mitigation activities, some of those same practices may also support adaptation. Through its conservation programs, NRCS also provides support to producers to help them adapt to the climate change impacts they face, such as increased drought, extreme weather, or seasonal shifts.
10. Why aren’t all conservation activities eligible to receive Inflation Reduction Act funding?
While all conservation activities provide important benefits to address natural resource concerns, not all practices provide the climate change mitigation benefits required by the Inflation Reduction Act. Under the law, only conservation activities that have climate change mitigation benefits are eligible to receive Inflation Reduction Act funding. Farm Bill funding is available for conservation programs to help producers implement conservation activities that may not meet Inflation Reduction Act requirements.
11. How can interested producers apply for Inflation Reduction Act funding assistance to implement Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities?
Producers can apply at their local USDA Service Center at the NRCS office at any time. However, to be considered in the current ranking period, producers should apply by their state’s ranking date. Any applications received after the ranking date will be kept on file and will be considered during future funding rounds. Every producer has a part to play when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of the size or type of operation. Whether a new or an existing NRCS client, all producers are encouraged to apply.
12. Does the Inflation Reduction Act have its own sign-up deadline?
No. Since the Inflation Reduction Act is simply providing additional funding to already existing conservation programs, Inflation Reduction Act funding is administered through those conservation programs (i.e., Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program), and adheres to their state program ranking dates (as mentioned in question 11).
13. Can Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities only be implemented using Inflation Reduction Act funds?
No. All conservation practices and activities are eligible to receive funding through NRCS’s conservation programs. The Inflation Reduction Act provides additional funding to these programs to be used only for climate-smart mitigation activities. However, Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities could also be funded through existing Farm Bill funding through these programs. This results in more climate-smart mitigation practices being implemented. Since NRCS receives far more applications than there is available funding, Inflation Reduction Act funds are helping more customers meet their conservation goals while also helping mitigate climate change.
14. How do I apply for conservation program assistance?
The first step is to contact your local USDA Service Center. There you will work with USDA employees who will walk you through the application process and visit with you about your conservation goals for your agricultural operation. More information about what to expect and how to prepare for your visit is available here. All interested applicants are encouraged to apply, regardless of operation size, location, or what is produced. There is additional assistance available for beginning farmers and ranchers, historically underserved producers, and veterans.
15. Where can I go for more information?
As with any conservation assistance, visit your local USDA Service Center to meet one-on-one with an NRCS conservation planner. Information about the Inflation Reduction Act is available on the NRCS Inflation Reduction Act page. More details about climate-smart activities – including short videos featuring producers implementing these activities, as well as the list of activities and descriptions – are available on the NRCS Climate-Smart Mitigation Activities page.