The answers lie in good stewardship of our natural resources. In creating USDA, President Lincoln knew that agriculture provided for a stable and secure society — hence the moniker “The People’s Department.”

In addition to producing an abundance of goods, agriculture also provides services that are environmentally beneficial. Agricultural practices that conserve soil, protect water quality and quantity, and provide wildlife habitat can both address the causes and consequences of problems like climate change.

Conservation-tillage, buffer strips, grazing management and sustainable forestry all help to reduce and sequester greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Those same practices help agriculture mitigate effects of climate change such as extreme flooding and drought by building healthy soil structure, cleansing and conserving water and reducing economic risk. 

The benefits of natural resource conservation are fundamental to both agricultural production and to environmental improvement. In helping farmers and ranchers be good stewards of the land, USDA sustains President Lincoln’s vision today by “commending itself to the great and vital interest it was created to advance.”

Agriculture will also continue to play a valuable role in mitigating the effects of climate change by expanding the development of renewable energy. America’s farms and ranches are rich in natural resources that can produce renewable fuel for the transportation sector, and heat and power for America’s industrial, commercial and residential sectors.

Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass and biofuels have the potential to offset a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need for traditional fossil fuels.  

America’s farmers, ranchers and research scientists can again lead the way to a 21st century Green Revolution if we follow the vision of Abraham Lincoln as laid out in 1862 by establishing the USDA.

So as we celebrate this week, we should reflect on all that the Department of Agriculture has helped us achieve and all that in can help us achieve going forward. Happy 150th birthday to USDA!

EDITOR’s NOTE — Roger Johnson is the 14th President of the National Farmers Union. Prior to his post at NFU, Johnson held the position of Agriculture Commissioner in North Dakota for 12 years and his family farms in Turtle Lake, N.D.