USDA’s $3 Billion Climate-Smart Commodities Program Is Unnecessary Greenwashing

Alain Guebert

Even at first glance, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced $3 billion partnerships for climate-smart products sounds like doublespeak, an Orwellian invention that reverses the meaning of words.

Or, more simply, how can today’s industrialized, commodity-centric agriculture be remotely “climate-smart” when everyone in the food business readily acknowledges that it’s is a juggernaut that swallows oil and changes the climate?

The short and truthful answer is that it cannot.

But don’t tell that to blind USDA politicians. On September 14, the USDA announced that it is “investing up to $2.8 billion in 70 selected projects in the first climate-smart product partnerships” to prove it can be done.

This seemingly admirable attempt, suggests an agronomist at a land-grant university very familiar with agricultural research on climate change, is actually the USDA hoping to put 10 pounds of (organic matter) in the proverbial 5-pound bag. using only his checkbook. “Good luck,” he offers.

But it will try, for example, looking at how to “accelerate the long-term adoption of cover crops by creating a platform” that “will quantify, verify and facilitate the sale of ecosystem benefits, creating a market to generate demand of climate-smart products”. goods “.

Leading this astronomical $95 million effort is that agricultural research powerhouse, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

Don’t worry, though, the group will get some farm help, says the USDA, “other major partners” like the National Corn Growers Association and – oddly enough – two produce pick groups, the National Pork Board and the United Soybean Board.

Even more curious is the presence of an even bigger helping hand, the Walton Family Foundation.

Why does the Walmart clan want a big finger in the cover crop cake? The USDA doesn’t say so, but the best guess is that the nation’s largest grocer needs a seat at this table so it can grab all the carbon credits hoped for to maintain — or even increase — its massive carbon footprint.

And so does the USDA’s award-winning effort for another 26 pages and nearly $2.6 billion more in cash from the Commodity Credit Corporation.

Another goal of the program is the USDA’s plan to “create markets and provide financing to farmers through performance-based contracts for carbon dioxide reduction and removal through the adoption of new climate-smart practices”.

The USDA doesn’t say what these “new practices” might be, but it will cost US taxpayers an additional $95 million to find out. Maybe.

The USDA recognizes, however, that the “main partners” of this project are PepsiCo, Cargill, Target and Coca-Cola.

These agbiz superpowers aren’t the only elephants invading the USDA’s carbon trough. Other partners from other projects include Archer Daniels Midland, John Deere, Campbell Soup, Keurig-Dr Pepper, Nestle, Mosaic, Anheuser-Busch, Smithfield Foods, Bayer and many more.

All, the USDA says, will seek ways to make more than 50 commodities — from corn and flax to chickens, forestry and fishing — “climate-smart” over the next two to five years.

How, of course, will be a real thing because today’s American food production machine is a fully integrated, farm-to-table factory that hums on fossil fuels and spews greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

However, very few agricultural researchers expect breakthroughs: basic agriculture cannot be made “climate smart” because basic agriculture, at the grassroots level, is already an incredibly productive machine that alters the climate.

“We know,” says a land-grant university agronomist, “that we can’t sequester carbon in any appreciable amount in today’s commodity production systems. Not by conventional tillage, not by minimum tillage, not by no-till. It’s just an agronomic fact. So what do we do with these USDA projects? ” he is asking himself.

Another researcher from a land-grant university is more direct in his view of the USDA’s “climate-smart” effort: “A model that relies on those who caused the problem to solve the problem is a model deeply flawed,” he suggests.

And, he adds, “(T)he ‘smart’ ‘dripping money effort’ is in those who get that kind of money for doing nothing. It’s more than smart, c is genius.

But this is not a real, lasting climate solution, notes a third university land-grant researcher. “It’s just greenwashing – vanity and greenwashing – to keep today’s agricultural policies in place.”

So high is low and smart is stupid, and somewhere George Orwell is smiling.

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Ryan H. Bowman