USDA releases plan to address climate change

By Timothy Eggert FarmWeek

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (Courtesy of USDA)

A changing climate poses a serious threat to American farmers and the future growth of agricultural productivity.

That’s one of five top-line conclusions listed in a 40-page climate adaptation and resilience plan released by USDA.

“We are operating in new territory, and the changing climate creates immense uncertainty and threatens the resilience of the American agriculture and forestry sectors,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote in the plan.

“Not only does climate change have a direct impact on a producer’s ability to plan and manage risk, it has wider impacts on the natural systems we rely on to support production of food and fiber, keep our waters clean, and maintain cultural resources,” he wrote.

The department’s plan – released alongside plans from 23 other federal agencies – dovetails a 90-day progress report published in May detailing recommendations for a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy.

Both follow executive mandates from President Joe Biden directing and codifying a whole-of-government approach to addressing climate change.

The threat to agricultural productivity, according to the department’s plan, stems directly from changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, increased pest and disease pressures, decline in pollinator health, reduced crop and forage quantity and quality, and infrastructure damage.

It also can be vulnerable to impacts to water supply and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, the plan reads.

Other than crop and livestock production suffering from climate change, soil quality can decline, pest and diseases can spread more easily and pollinator health can deteriorate, the plan warns.

And with more intense weather events forecasted, prices for insurances protections against those risks and other financial losses could rise significantly, according to the plan.

“Even with some adaptation actions taken by producers, climate change could lower domestic production of major commodities, leading to higher prices, higher premiums and, consequently, higher (Federal Crop Insurance Program) subsidies,” the plan reads.

To address those vulnerabilities, the department intends to:


  • increase implementation of on-farm adaptation strategies and practices.
  • support active landscape-scale management and disturbance responses.
  • improve access to data and tools.
  • enhance systems for monitoring and mitigating vector and disease spread.
  • continue research into climate impacts on agricultural productivity and adaptation strategies and practices.

The four other major conclusions reached by the department are that climate change poses a threat to water quantity and quality; risks disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities; causes shocks due to extreme climate events and stresses infrastructure and public lands.

To address those vulnerabilities and the threat to agricultural producers and productivity, the department ultimately proposes to:

  • build resilience across landscapes with investments in soil and forest health.
  • increase outreach and education to promote adoption and application of climate-smart adaptation strategies.
  • broaden access to and availability of climate data at regional and local scales for USDA Mission Areas, producers, land managers and other stakeholders.
  • increase support for research and development of climate-smart practices and technologies to inform USDA and help producers and land managers adapt to a changing climate.
  • leverage the USDA Climate Hubs as a framework to support USDA Mission Areas in delivering adaptation science, technology and tools.

This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit