While we wait for the full authorization of Farm Bill, the new year has ushered in yet another marker bill to bolster the carbon sinks in our soils. Introduced by Representatives Kim Schrier (D-WA), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA), the Partnerships for Agricultural Climate Action Act (PACA) aims to bolster locally-led climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. By streamlining funding and technical assistance to partners like Tribes, states, farmer cooperatives, and conservation districts, PACA empowers communities to take charge of their agricultural climate action strategies.

Getting into the details

If passed, PACA could:

  • Establish a new subprogram under United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) existing Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to facilitate resource distribution to local partners, states, and Tribes and enable agricultural practices that are regionally tailored.
  • Incentivize regionally appropriate, voluntary agricultural conservation practices aimed at reducing emissions, enhancing soil carbon storage, and/or bolstering resilience to extreme weather.
  • Prioritize historically underserved, first-time, small, and low-income producers through technical and financial assistance.

For a more detailed look at what the bill proposes, check out the full text.

Rooted in existing regional programs

Inspired by the success of the bipartisan Sustainable Farms and Fields (SFF) program in Washington state, PACA seeks to support regional agricultural climate action on a national scale. In 2023 alone, SFF disbursed nearly $2 million in grants to 53 projects through technical assistance, cost sharing, equipment sharing, demonstrations, and materials and supplies. Funded projects varied widely, from financial assistance for no-till drills, to silvopasture and hedgerow planting, to climate-smart practice workshops and demonstrations. PACA aims to enable local groups to design and implement their own version of a program like SFF, incentivizing locally-led voluntary climate-smart practices across the US.

Why take local action?

This legislation acknowledges that farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of climate change and are dealing with the day-to-day realities of storms, droughts, and other extreme weather on their operations. While USDA is working to address climate change and resilience on a broad national scale, local partners have more area-specific knowledge and are well-positioned to support producers in addressing regional agricultural challenges. By creating a subprogram under the existing CIG program, USDA would be able to match grants to local partners up to $7.5 million to develop or modify climate action proposals, and up to $15 million to implement mitigation and adaptation strategies on agricultural lands. Priority will be given to applicants interested in whole-farm transitions to systems that support additional conservation goals. Applicants are also able to partner on proposals with other community entities, further strengthening local community ties.

Prioritizing environmental justice

In light of the historical injustices and current systemic inequalities prevalent in the agricultural sector, PACA prioritizes proposals that address the needs of marginalized and underserved communities. BIPOC, first-time, and small producers often encounter significant barriers to adopting climate-smart practices, including financial constraints and limited access to technical assistance. Additionally, the bill allocates one-third of grant program funds to Tribal governments and recognizes that many modern “climate-smart” agricultural strategies are rooted in Indigenous land management practices and traditional ecological knowledge.

PACA in the larger carbon removal picture

As a part of broader efforts to fund land-based carbon removal in the Farm Bill, the Partnerships for Agricultural Climate Action Act offers an opportunity to ensure that soil carbon sequestration in agricultural lands meets regional needs. By prioritizing emissions reductions, soil carbon sequestration, and resilience-building measures, PACA aligns with the goals of other recent legislative initiatives such as the ARACI Act and the Coordination for Soil Carbon Research and Monitoring Act. Together, these initiatives provide a science-based, farmer-focused, and locally-led vision for scaling land-based carbon removal.

Edited by Ana Little-Saña. Image by Elle Cartier.