Farmers need enabling policy, funds for climate-smart agriculture

February 14, 2023

Agricultural producers need access to tools, both financial and technical, to make climate-smart agriculture work, and Solutions from the Land saw the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), signed into law in August 2022, as a major win toward this end. While agriculture received less than 11% of the $369 billion in climate and clean energy investments, the IRA showed SfL that Congress is recognizing the important role sustainably managed farms, ranches and forests can play in mitigating climate change and simultaneously delivering essential ecosystem services.

The Act directed $40 billion toward existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs promoting climate-smart agriculture, biofuel development, forest restoration, renewable energy tax credits, conservation technical assistance, and rural electric cooperative carbon capture and storage projects.

Nearly $20 billion of the total investment in agriculture will support existing conservation programs that directly assist producers, including:

  • $8.45 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
  • $4.95 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program
  • $3.25 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program
  • $1.4 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
  • $1 billion for the Conservation Technical Assistance Program

The first of the funds have already been released, with USDA announcing this week that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is making $850 million available to farmers, ranchers and foresters in fiscal year 2023. The funds will expand access to financial and technical assistance for producers to advance conservation on their farms, ranches or forest lands through practices like cover cropping, conservation tillage, wetland restoration, prescribed grazing, nutrient management, tree planting and more.

SfL and other conservation groups hoped these $20 billion in IRA funds would be added to the baseline of conservation funding provided in the farm bill, the current of which is set to expire Sept. 30, 2023. The funds are a needed step in affirming current and future agricultural producers in the valuable roles they play in feeding the world and contributing to sustainable development goals. However, the funding is in jeopardy.

Politico this week reported an effort may be made through the adoption appropriation/spending bills to redirect some of the $20 billion infusion into the farm bill’s conservation title to other priorities, like the safety net. The argument is that USDA will not be able to spend the conservation money quickly enough.

While SfL recognizes the difficulty of balancing priorities, funding for enabling conservation programs must go to the top of the list. The $20 billion in additional conservation funds from the IRA not only support farmers, ranchers and foresters with short-term economic sustainability. They build long-term resilience and protect agricultural lands for future generations.

Farmers, ranchers and foresters should not be underestimated in their interest and ability to adopt climate-smart practices, given the proper support. The conservation programs boosted by IRA funds have historically been underfunded and oversubscribed, meaning more producers want to participate than funding currently allows.

The EQIP program, for example, is oversubscribed by as many as 80,000 to 90,000 producers each year, according to a Farm Progress article from Aug. 31, 2022, featuring insight from Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.

Thompson and other representatives shared during the 2022 Farm Progress Show that high input costs, especially for fertilizer and fuel, are among the greatest frustrations facing farmers and ranchers today. A number of farmers and ranchers have found they can, over time, reduce their input costs by implementing conservation and climate-smart practices, which boost fertility and resiliency in drought and flooding while reducing need for synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. Many of the same producers who adopt climate-smart agriculture operate in a circular economy, in which they create value (such as energy and fertility) for on- and off-farm use by reducing, reusing and recycling their resources and working in collaboration with neighbors, benefiting their rural economies and communities beyond the farm.

Farmers are increasingly interested in adopting climate-smart agriculture practices because they benefit everyone long-term. However, transitioning to new methods of production is not easy short-term. It’s difficult for farming families to make long-term investments in climate-smart agriculture when they’re already stretched by thin margins and unpredictable weather and markets. Now is the time to stand behind our nation’s farmers and enable them to invest in the climate-smart agriculture practices that will help keep them on the land, providing the food, fiber, fuel and ecosystem services that make life as we know it possible.

SfL urges U.S. lawmakers to protect the historic $20 billion investment that has been made in strengthening farmers, ranchers and foresters as they improve the land. There is no better investment than in the people who have dedicated their lives and businesses to feeding the world while enhancing their local, rural communities and the nation’s natural resources.

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An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.