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USDA Secretary Vilsack visits Wisconsin to tout new climate change initiative


PEPIN COUNTY Wis. (WEAU) – As people look for new ways to fight climate change, one industry looking to innovate is agriculture.

Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited a Pepin County farm to discuss the USDA’s new Climate-Smart Commodities program. The $2.8 billion program gives grants to farmers with the goal of helping them invest in new techniques to become more eco-friendly.

Organic Valley is a farm co-op participating in the program. The La Farge-based organization has about 1,800 farms. It recently received a $25 million grant from the program, which will help it improve its carbon insetting program.

“We’re investing in our own farmers and our own supply chain for them to do new practices to reduce their carbon footprint,” said Organic Valley Director of Sustainability Nicole Rakobitsch.

She said examples of insets include tree plantings, improvements in manure management, improvements to grazing and cropland and adding solar panels.

Kevin Mahalkl is one of Organic Valley’s farmers looking to take advantage of the new investments.

He already tries to do as much conservation as possible on his Gilman farm but he could do more with more money.

“The biggest thing I’d look at first is maybe a few farm management practices like improving some of our fencing, maybe seeding some new varieties of plants that are more climate tolerant and can handle the weather extremes,” Mahalkl said.

He said he’d also like to add solar panels to his farm. Right now, none of it’s possible without financial help.

“When we have tight margins and don’t have a lot of money to invest,” Mahalkl said. “Just even having a few thousands dollars for fencing can make a huge difference in how we can manage and, you know, utilize that tool.”

Vilsack said Climate-Smart Commodities program is going to make it possible for farmers like Mahalkl to cut emissions quicker. It’s also going to set them up as global leaders in the fight against climate change.

“This project is going to allow farmers to begin saving at a rate and reducing emissions at a rate that will allow it to create international leadership as well for the U.S., which in turn, what happens when we do something is a lot of people follow it,” Vilsack said.

The USDA awarded grants to 16 projects in Wisconsin, with more to come in the future.

In response to Vilsack’s visit, Republican Party of Wisconsin Communications Director Chad Doran said:

“While the USDA is focused on expensive projects to make farmers ‘go green,’ Wisconsin’s farmers are struggling with record high costs for fuel, skyrocketing costs to purchase and maintain their equipment, and shortages in the inputs needed to produce their crops thanks to supply chain shortages caused by the Biden administration and his policies.”

Republican National Committee Rachel Reisner also put out a statement in response to Vilsack’s visit, which said:

“Instead of pushing a Green New Deal agenda or delivering a pittance to a few farms, Tom Vilsack and the Biden administration should focus on easing inflation for Wisconsin farmers who continue to battle historic highs for fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other production costs.”



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