Without exception, Senate and House Republicans voted last summer against the climate, health, and tax bill that earmarked $20 billion for USDA’s voluntary land stewardship programs, with a priority on practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase climate resiliency. Now, they are suggesting the money might be better used elsewhere, including on crop subsidies.
House Agriculture chairman Glenn Thompson is focused on the needs of “production agriculture,” meaning full-time, large-scale operators. Farm groups often cite the rise in farm expenses, supply chain disruptions, and volatile commodity prices in seeking an expanded farm safety net, including crop insurance. There is little mention of record-high net farm income, a USDA gauge of profitability, in 2021 and 2022, with strong income forecast for this year.
“When it comes to providing the resources necessary to provide a reinforced safety net, agricultural research, rural development, and other priorities, I believe all funding sources must be considered, including the Inflation Reduction Act,” said Arkansas Sen. John Boozman last week, referring to the $20 billion in climate funds.
Meanwhile, Thompson said “we’re in the audit phase right now,” with no decision whether to dip into the $20 billion, reported ClimateWire last week. In an opening statement at a House Agriculture Committee hearing, Thompson faulted the administration for “nonsensical regulations and policies.”
Boozman, the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the government should use a loose leash on its soil, water, and wildlife conservation programs. “Tying crop insurance to incentives for certain conservation practices — dictated by those in Washington, D.C. — should be off the table,” he said, adding, “If there is genuine interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon, there is no better place to do that than the forestry title through active forest management.”
Meanwhile, an amalgam of 20 farm, environmental, and farmworker groups plans to “rally for resilience” this week, advocating for climate solutions to be part of the 2023 farm bill. “As the vast alliance of farmers and advocates assembles in our nation’s capital, we urge Congress to deliver changes to ensure the next farm bill reflects real, inclusive, and systematic change,” said Mike Lavender of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a small-farm advocate.
President Biden has proposed a 50% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. During his campaign for the White House, he said American agriculture could be the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions. Republicans in Congress have been dubious of the need for action. Farm groups helped to stall climate change legislation during the Obama era.
The $20 billion in climate mitigation funding would allow a large increase in USDA outlays on land stewardship. It now spends about $5 billion a year on conservation programs.
Three out of every four applicants for two of the largest USDA conservation programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), were denied funding last year, said the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). “Rising farmer demand to access programs that respond to the climate crisis, build soil health, and protect water quality is not being met,” said the IATP in a report, “Still closed out.”
It’s worth noting that the climate, health, and tax law included $8.45 billion for the cost-sharing EQIP; $3.25 billion for CSP, a working lands program; $6.75 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program; $1.4 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program; and $1 billion for technical assistance.