Democrats add $ 28 billion in conservation funds to huge spending bill

Congress Democrats agreed to conservation and debt relief arrangements that would immediately increase climate-focused conservation spending, including direct payments for cover crops, while repaying loans to borrowers at USDA risk.

The funding is to be added to a $ 3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that the House budget committee approved over the weekend.

The $ 28 billion in conservation funding, which includes about $ 5 billion in annual direct payments for cover crops, would begin to flow in fiscal year 2022, which begins on Friday, according to a copy of the amendment obtained by Agri-Pulse. The amendment effectively rewrites the conservation title of the 2018 farm bill long before the legislation was updated in 2023.

The funding aims to develop climate-smart agriculture and help deliver on President Joe Biden’s pledge to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Most of the conservation funding would be directed through the Farm Act’s existing conservation programs, but as a summary circulating last week on Capitol Hill points out, the amendment would also create a new program at the Farm Service. USDA Agency to Promote Cover Crops.

Growers who plant cover crops would be eligible for annual payments of $ 25 per acre beginning in FY22. Landowners who do not qualify for payments as producers would be eligible for payments of $ 5 per acre.

The program would also provide additional payments for compensation for planting prevented on land where cover crops have been grown.

The environmental quality incentive program would get $ 9 billion under the law to fund “practices or improvements” that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon. Annual funding limit for EQIP conservation innovation trials would increase from $ 25 million to $ 50 million, with priority given to proposals that use diet and food management to reduce methane emissions enteric from cattle.

Funding for the EQIP would start at $ 300 million in FY22 and increase to $ 3.45 billion by FY26.

The regional conservation partnership program, which draws on private, state and local funding sources, would get $ 7.5 billion to help farmers and forest owners reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RCPP funding would start at $ 200 million in FY22 and grow to $ 3.05 billion by FY26.

USDA could prioritize RCPP projects that “leverage corporate supply chain sustainability commitments” or “use models that pay for the results of targeting associated methane and nitrous oxide emissions. to agricultural production systems ”.

The Conservation Stewardship Program would receive $ 4 billion to reward farmers for implementing at least one climate-smart practice or for implementing state- or country-specific sets of practices. region. Funding would start at $ 250 million and increase to $ 1.5 billion by FY26.

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program would be funded to the tune of $ 1.5 billion under the law. The amendment would also provide $ 600 million for the USDA quantifying carbon sequestration; $ 200 million for technical conservation assistance and $ 50 million for USDA Regional Climate Centers. USDA would also receive $ 100 million for administrative costs.

The legislation also provides for debt relief of around $ 2 billion as well as assistance to minority producers.

The debt relief provisions were designed to avoid some of the race-based constitutional issues that blocked a previous program in court.

The legislation would provide $ 1 billion for loan repayments and modifications for borrowers receiving direct loans from the USDA. The program would focus on those who are at “high risk” as determined by the USDA. Payments would be capped at $ 200,000 and would be reduced by the amount of money producers received under the Market Facilitation Program or the Coronavirus Food Aid Program.

The legislation would also provide $ 350 million in financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest owners who are “determined to have suffered discrimination” under USDA loan programs.

An additional $ 255 million is earmarked for grants and loans to eligible entities to “improve access to land for producers, including holders of inherited property, land whose ownership is clouded due to the way it has been passed down through the generations.

There would also be $ 200 million for technical assistance, including outreach mediation and financial assistance for “underserved” farmers and ranchers.

Top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, Glenn “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania, called Democratic legislation “an attack on the Farm Bill process by extending narrow, partisan priorities beyond their expiration. while leaving production agriculture hanging on the vine. This is what happens when congressional committees are held hostage by party leaders who have no interest in protecting the individuals and communities that feed them, clothe and feed this great nation. ”

Source: Agri-Pulse