Democratic funding infusion could shift farm bill debate | 2022-08-02

The landmark climate deal, which Democrats hope to hammer out in Congress in the coming days, will refocus the future debate over the next farm bill, satisfying demands for new conservation spending but leaving farm groups still scrambling to fund improvements to commodity programs.

A Democratic bill called the Inflation Reduction Actwill drop $19.9 billion into four conservation programs starting in fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1, to help crop and livestock producers reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environmental Quality Stimulus Program alone would receive $8.45 billion between 2023 and 2027, more than doubling the program’s existing funding authority under the 2018 farm bill of $8.1 billion for this period.

The bill also waives EQIP’s existing requirement that half of the funding go to livestock producers and allows up to $50 million in environmental innovation grants with a priority for feed management measures that reduce methane emissions.

The Regional Conservation Partnership program, which combines federal money with investment from NGOs as well as private and public sources, will receive $6.75 billion over four years, more than five times the $1.2 billion authorized in those years under the 2018 farm bill.

The bill provides another $3.25 billion for the Conservation Program and $1.4 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Program.

The spending plan won’t necessarily be set in stone even if it becomes law. Congress must write a new farm bill in 2023. Republicans, who are expected to be united in opposing the reconciliation measure, are expected to control the House and possibly the Senate in 2023. They can try to get funding to keep other priorities.

USDA Deputy Secretary Robert BonneyBut Robert Bonney, who is overseeing the USDA’s implementation of climate finance for agriculture as undersecretary for agriculture production and conservation, says the Biden administration has been crafting climate policy for agriculture with an eye toward securing support from farm groups for the new funding.

“I expect people on both sides of the aisle … to recognize that there are some things here that really work for agriculture and forestry, and hopefully that means they allow us to maintain those resources,” Bonney said. Agro-Pulse on the sidelines of this week’s International Sweetener Symposium in Vail, Colorado.

Many commodity groups are pushing for base price increases under commodity programs or, in the case of sugar producers, higher marketing credit rates. But there is no obvious source of funding for these increases some conservative House Republicans are already pushing for cuts in farm bill spending.

Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson says there’s little chance Republicans can get away politically with moving the reconciliation bill’s conservation funding to other parts of the farm bill, including the item title: Conservation funding is a top priority for the chairman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Even if Republicans win control of the Senate in November, they won’t have the votes to pass the Senate farm bill, which Stabenow doesn’t support.

The Inflation Reduction Act needs a simple majority in the Senate to pass as Democrats use the budget reconciliation process. But reconciliation rules are too restrictive to pass legislation like the farm bill, so the Senate would need 60 votes to pass.

Peterson said he expects the top Republican in the Senate, John Boozman, to join top House Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania in supporting increased spending on commodity programs to offset rising materials costs, raising questions about where the funding will come from. .

“Traditional agriculture will require more money. They’re not going to tell them (the committee) how to pay for it,” Peterson said. “I have no answers. I have many questions.”

In addition to this funding problem, the conservation funding that Stabenow enshrined in the Inflation Reduction Act would also create another potential problem for Ag committees: The sharp increase in spending would disappear after 2026, leaving a huge gap in funding for programs like EQIP that in currently have a large backlog of unfunded claims. Under the reconciliation bill, about three-quarters of the conservation funding is earmarked for fiscal years 2025 and 2026, including $6.45 billion of the $8.45 billion allocated to EQIP.

Colin PetersonFormer House Committee Chairman Colin Peterson

Bart Fisher, a Texas A&M University economist and former senior House GOP aide, said the gap would put Ag committees “in a very awkward position” in deciding whether to leave the funding gap in place or find a way to mitigate it. Ag committee.

One option for lawmakers would be to redistribute the new conservation funding over a longer period of time, rather than the four-year period it is designated for in the reconciliation bill, Fisher said.

It is notable that the agreement package lacks a new program dedicated to paying farmers for growing cover crops. The Build Back Better bill passed the House late last year would offer growers payments of $25 per acre for planting cover crops.

Bonnie said funding for the conservation program could help expand cover crops. “We have enough flexibility, and certainly in EQIP, even in CSP, to promote cover crops,” he said.

He emphasized that cover crops are not the only practice farmers need to reduce carbon emissions. “Cover crops are not suitable for everyone. They’re incredibly important in some places, and what we need to do is create that variety of tools.”

The reconciliation bill also extends statutory authority for conservation programs through 2031. They currently expire in 2023 along with other farm bill programs. The extension was made under Senate budget rules, the source said.

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