The Biden administration bypassed lawmakers when it tripled the size of its climate-smart commodities initiative and may face congressional investigations and stricter limits on USDA spending as a consequence, said two farm policy consultants on Wednesday. “I think there will be an attempt to interject the Congress into the CCC process because of what’s happened,” said Colin Peterson, former chair of the House Agriculture Committee.
Farmers received billions of dollars from two of the largest federal agricultural conservation programs between 2017 and 2020, but only a small proportion of the money funded practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group.
In the 1980s, "Hiware Bazar, a village tucked deep inside the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Back then, the hamlet was a crime-ridden backwater, desperately poor and largely abandoned by government agencies," writes Puja Changoiwala in FERN's latest story, published with Grist.
More than 350 groups proposed climate-smart pilot projects to help farmers develop a market for sustainably produced commodities, said the Agriculture Department on Tuesday. The large-scale projects, with budgets of up to $100 million, would draw on $1 billion in targeted USDA funding.
The USDA will seek maximum impact from the $1 billion that it will put into climate-smart pilot projects, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday, but he demurred at discussing next steps for agriculture in mitigating global warming. "We'll see where the applications take us," he told the North American Agricultural Journalists meeting.
The government and private sector will have roles in maintaining the progress made by the pioneers of climate-smart agriculture, said a group of experts working through the AGree farm-policy initiative on Tuesday. They recommended lower crop insurance premiums for farmers who use practices that reduce agricultural risk, bank lending policies that recognize the benefits of conservation practices, expansion of USDA stewardship programs, and inclusion of "early innovators" in the supply chain sustainability programs of food and beverage companies.
For the second year in a row, farmers who plant cover crops are eligible for a premium benefit of $5 an acre on most crop insurance policies, said the USDA’s Risk Management Agency on Thursday.
The senior Republican on the House Agriculture Committee accused the USDA of exceeding its authority — "We're the ones that authorize programs"— by launching a $1 billion initiative to develop climate-smart commodities on Tuesday. A senior Republican on the committee joined the attack, asking, "How can a $1 billion program even be described as a pilot program?"
The USDA will spend $1 billion on climate-smart pilot projects, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Monday, delivering on a pledge made last September to help farmers develop a market for sustainably produced commodities. The demonstration projects could change the shape of U.S. farm policy, but the clock already is ticking toward the 2023 farm bill and funding for climate mitigation is not certain.
For decades, leaders [in the Southwest] have sought a way to equitably share what’s left of the shrinking supply, but there has always been one stubborn sticking point: Farmers consume three-quarters of the region’s precious water, often to grow thirsty, inedible crops like cotton and hay. Many of them have been here for a century or more, and they aren’t about to leave. So, why can’t they grow something that sucks less water?(No paywall)
Congress should substantially increase — as much as double — funding for USDA stewardship programs that encourage climate mitigation and help farmers make money from climate-smart practices, said a Washington think tank on Wednesday.
Only 5 percent of U.S. cropland is planted to cover crops amid debate over their financial benefits to farmers. Congress may need to offer a "sizable" subsidy to growers if it wants large-scale adoption of the farming practice, said two university economists.
If governments encourage climate-smart farming, they would see an increase in agricultural productivity and a sizable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by agriculture, said a report by the World Bank and the IFPRI think tank on Wednesday. The report advocates a "repurposing" of agriculture policies and subsidies.
The farm sector would gain $27 billion for climate mitigation, including payments for planting cover crops, from the social welfare and climate change bill passed by the House, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Agriculture can lead the way in the fight on climate with climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices that sequester carbon, reduce emissions and create new and better market opportunities for producers."
House Democrats, acting in concert with President Biden, proposed a $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate change bill on Thursday that would combat global warming by paying farmers up to $25 an acre to grow cover crops on their land during fallow seasons. The bill also would help low-income families buy food for their children during the summer and make nearly 9 million students in high-poverty areas eligible for free school meals.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which starts Oct. 31 in Glasgow, has been billed as a “turning point” for humanity and the “last, best chance” of averting climate disaster. And given the growing awareness of the central role that food and agricultural systems play in climate change—both as a cause and as part of a potential solution—many activists say that the sector is not as big a piece of the COP26 agenda as it should be. (No paywall)
The agriculture ministers of Canada, Mexico, and the United States described national initiatives to boost productivity and slow global warming at the World Food Prize symposium on Thursday, with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack saying, "There's a tremendous opportunity for North America to lead the world." While he called for being tolerant of different approaches to climate mitigation, Vilsack was clear that in his view, the U.S. high-technology approach is the best.
While Democratic leaders in Congress are trying to scale down the cost of President Biden's social welfare and climate change bill, it is important to make "bold investments ... that expand climate-smart agriculture practices," said two House Democrats. The members of the House Agriculture Committee said the money should be funneled through voluntary programs already offered by the USDA.