WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Department of Agriculture will distribute an additional $325 million in funding for projects tailored to smaller-scale farmers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, taking its total annual investment in climate-friendly farming to more than $3 billion, the agency announced Monday.

USDA’s efforts are part of a broader Biden administration goal to cut U.S. emissions, targeting the approximately 10% generated from farming annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Reuters a key goal of the program is to enable more farmers to serve the growing consumer market for sustainably produced food.

“We want to encourage farmers and producers to accelerate use of these practices and we want the market to recognize and value (that) work,” he said.

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The money will fund 71 projects, ranging from $250,000 to just under $5 million, which will aid small and historically underserved farmers in adopting and assessing lower-emission farming practices.

The funded groups include Black farmer associations, Native American tribes and organizations that serve women, veteran and beginning farmers.

Some projects will monitor and verify the benefits of climate-friendly farm practices like rotating crops, installing solar panels in farm fields and reducing fertilizer application. Others will provide technical assistance to help farmers adopt new practices and skills.

The money will come from USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which is funded by the U.S. Treasury to support the farm economy. USDA also drew on CCC money for the $2.8 billion round of funding for 70 climate-friendly farm projects of $5 million to $100 million the agency announced in September.

Republican U.S. Representative G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania, incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has argued USDA’s use of CCC money for the projects is outside of its authority and has said he will audit the program.

“I am sure there are worthy projects, but USDA is abusing the authorities of the (CCC) and this will be reviewed in the new year,” Thompson said in an email.

Vilsack told Reuters he was not concerned about a potential audit.

“We’re helping to create a market opportunity for farmers, which is precisely what the CCC was designed to do,” he said.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas in Washington; Editing by Josie Kao and Richard Chang)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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