USDA hopes to cut farms' environmental footprint in half by 2050

USDA hopes to cut farms' environmental footprint in half by 2050
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laid out a series of goals Thursday to make the farming sector more environmentally friendly, part of an effort to cut the carbon footprint of agriculture in half.

“It’s a stretch goal, but it should be and we think we can get there,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueAmerican meat producers must leverage new technology to protect consumers, workers OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service MORE said at the Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum.

The USDA wants to increase production by 40 percent while cutting pollution from multiple aspects of the industry. 

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The vision relies heavily on public-private partnerships, outlining a series of targets the USDA wants the industry to hit: reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030, reducing water pollution from nutrient loss by 30 percent by 2050 and growing enough feedstock by 2050 to have biofuels constitute 30 percent of the nation’s fuel supply.

The goals also ask the farm sector to sequester more carbon in soil and trees while adopting technology and practices that could reduce agriculture's overall carbon footprint. 

The greenhouse gas goal does not set a specific target, and the agency does not outline any repercussions for missing its benchmarks.  

“It's going to take alignment to do that between the public sector and the private sector. That's how we define doing right and feeding everyone as we go forward,” Perdue said.

In addition to hoping to promote research and development of greener technology and farming practices, USDA will also up data collection on sustainability practices to keep pace with the numerous other ways it tracks the industry.

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“We need to make sure that we do it in a way that preserves privacy. We know that farmers are very private about their individual data, the same way we would be about our tax returns,” Purdue said.

The announcement comes amid a growing push from agriculture to embrace greener practices, with a coalition of 21 farm and ranch groups launching their own sustainability effort on Wednesday. 

The effort from President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pitches Goya Foods products on Twitter Sessions defends recusal: 'I leave elected office with my integrity intact' Former White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff MORE’s USDA also comes as Democrats have increasingly turned to the agricultural sector in the fight against climate change, using farming components of their climate plans as a way to reach out to the demographic

The USDA’s plan was welcome news to many in the industry, and some criticized the agency for not acting sooner.

“We’re encouraged that USDA is moving to address the issue of sustainability. That being said, we have lost a lot of ground during the last several years of federal inaction. This is the single greatest threat to American farmers and national food sovereignty — one we should have been tackling head-on for the past thirty years,” the National Farmers Union said in a statement.

“The White House and USDA need to treat this crisis with the urgency it deserves.”