'America must take steps now' on climate, says Obama agriculture chief

On the links to extreme weather, climate scientists generally avoid connecting singular events to climate change. They note, however, that its effects can intensify extreme weather events.

Vilsack said he wasn’t going to debate the science of climate change, but instead describe what he’s seen on farms across the country.

Rising temperatures have introduced invasive species to new regions, he said. And water shortages have forced farmers to look into more drought-resistant crops.

Severe weather patterns that include more floods and fires also threaten to destroy acres of land, Vilsack said. He noted a recent U.S. Forest Service study projected a doubling of acreage subject to wildfires by 2050.

The threat of deforestation, Vilsack noted, would further exacerbate climate change through destroying carbon dioxide-absorbing vegetation.

“Given the threats our forests face, we moved away from the timber wars of the past towards a shared vision that recognizes we must work together towards a common goal of forest restoration,” he said.

Vilsack said the Agriculture Department (USDA) has taken several steps to mitigate the effects of climate change.

He noted USDA has doubled down on climate-related research, including developing more drought-resistant seed technologies. It also is promoting cover-cropping and multi-cropping, which help curtail soil erosion and conserve water.

Additionally, USDA is working to reduce food waste, which piles up at landfills and emits heat-trapping methane gas.

Vilsack also said USDA is focusing on new land conservation efforts and encouraging farmers to make renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades.

“We know we need to be ahead of the game. We must continue to build on previous action in order to better support America's adaptation to climate challenges,” Vilsack said.