Ag Policy Blog

USDA Rolls Out First Effort to Create New Working Lands Climate Corps

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A USDA employee is moving debris from a flood-control culvert. USDA on Monday rolled out a new Working Lands Climate Corps, part of a broader overall effort in the Biden administration to develop younger workers who can focus on climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. (Photo courtesy of USDA)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Drawing back to the Dust Bowl-era Civilian Conservation Corps, USDA on Monday announced a new effort to train and potentially employ more than 100 young people in the "Working Lands Climate Corps."

The launching of the Climate Corps has been a focus for the Biden administration since coming into office and the White House plans to enroll the first members of the Climate Corps into training and the workforce this summer, though at a much smaller scale than originally envisioned.

USDA on Monday announced it would provide technical training and "career pathway opportunities" for more than 100 people in the "Working Lands Climate Corps." These young people will work on "climate-smart agriculture solutions for farmers and ranchers across the country, now and in the future."

USDA's Working Lands Climate Corps is just a part of the overall American Climate Corps, which is being pitched as an initiative for workforce training and service to develop careers in the clean energy and climate resilience economy.

A coalition of farm organizations focused on climate policies -- the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA) -- stated, "The Working Lands Climate Corps is a promising opportunity to provide on-the-ground education and training to develop the skillset needed to address natural resource challenges. Climate Corps fellows, working with state and local organizations, will gain the skills needed to provide conservation technical assistance to agricultural producers who are voluntarily making climate-smart investments on their operations."

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will work to place the first group of Working Land Climate Corps members in temporary positions with AmeriCorps, The Corps Network, and the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD). Ideally, this will also interest the Climate Corps members in careers at USDA, said Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Xochitl Torres Small, who made the announcement at the National Association of Conservation Districts annual meeting in San Diego.

"This program will provide a pathway to continue to build a workforce of people who understand these programs and their promise to support the delivery of billions of dollars in climate-smart agriculture funding made available through President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, putting them on a pathway into good paying careers at the US Department of Agriculture," Torres Small said.

Right now, USDA is accepting applications from different organizations to host members of the Working Lands Climate Corps. Groups are "highly encouraged" to provide those young workers a wage of $15 an hour -- but there is an $11 minimum. The workers, who are expected to be college age, will also receive an education award of up to $6,895 when they complete their Climate Corps program. There is a March 8 application deadline for organizations to apply for grants to accept those Climate Corps workers. Groups such as local soil conservation districts and others that have close ties to NRCS are encouraged to apply.

Michael D. Smith, CEO, AmeriCorps, compared the new group of potential volunteers to the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps that worked on farms, forests, and helped build local and regional infrastructure projects. Smith said the new team of recruits would help farmers deal with climate change, droughts and renewable energy. The collaboration with other organizations, Smith said, "which will mobilize Americans across the country to restore soil health, promote sustainable farming practices, and tackle the disproportionate impacts that climate change has on the farming industry and our food."

Mary Ellen Sprenkel, president and CEO of The Corps Network, said the Corps model will help expand the reach of NRCS to train future workers in climate-smart practices.

"From four decades of experience working at the intersection of conservation, service, and workforce development, we know this initiative has the potential to have an important impact on our lands and in developing the climate-ready workforce we need," Sprenkel said.

The National Association of Conservation Districts will operate as a "core partner" in supporting the USDA Climate Corps' program, which includes helping organize the training programs and providing mentorship opportunities.

"The new Working Lands Conservation Corps allows us to renew and strengthen this partnership, while offering important conservation career developmental opportunities to young adults across the country," said National Association of Conservation Districts President Kim LaFleur. "We are thrilled to provide training that will support the voluntary, locally led conservation delivery system and supplement 'boots on ground' training programs."

The Corps Network, National Association of Conservation Districts, AmeriCorps, and USDA will hold webinars on Feb. 15 at 1 p.m. CST and Feb. 20 at 10 a.m. CST to provide additional information for organizations interested in applying.

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