The USDA has inflated its spending total for climate mitigation by including practices that are not proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon in the soil, said the Environmental Working Group on Wednesday. The USDA said EWG's conclusions were "fundamentally flawed, speculative, and rest on incorrect assumptions."
The decades-long decline in the number of U.S. farms can be stanched by adopting climate-smart farming practices and crops, increasing biofuel production, and expanding local and regional marketing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the largest U.S. farm group on Monday. There are 2 million farms in operation today; the number of farms peaked at 6.8 million in the 1930s.
President Biden will open his administration’s “investing in rural America” blitz on a Minnesota farm on Wednesday with the announcement of $5 billion in funding for soil and water conservation, rural infrastructure, and economic development. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the $1.7 billion allotted for stewardship was the largest single-year injection of money ever into USDA conservation programs.
As part of President Biden's goal to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade, the USDA will spend $300 million to more accurately measure and verify GHG emissions and carbon sequestration by climate-smart agriculture, said the White House on Wednesday. Climate adviser Ali Zaidi said the project would help "the people on the front lines of the climate crisis to be part of the solution."
Split on party lines, a House subcommittee approved a USDA spending bill on Thursday that would rescind $6 billion earmarked for clean energy and farm loan forgiveness and end work on fair play rules in livestock marketing. The bill also would limit Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s access to a $30 billion reserve that is being used to pay for a climate-smart agriculture initiative.
Sixteen months after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a project to help farmers develop markets for sustainably produced commodities, the USDA formally put the initiative into operation on Thursday. Some $3.1 billion — three times more than originally planned — would be spent on 141 pilot projects to offer incentives that encourage producers to adopt climate-mitigating practices on working lands. (No paywall)
The Biden administration cannot be trusted to spend tax dollars prudently, and Congress ought to block the USDA’s access to the $30 billion reserve fund it used to launch a climate mitigation initiative, said the chair of a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. The Republican-controlled Congress restricted Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s access to the fund for five years during the Obama administration.
At the same time that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called for more attention to small and midsize farmers, who see limited revenue from agriculture, a key Southern senator cautioned on Thursday against “a small farm versus big farm conflict” in writing the new farm bill. Large-scale operators collect the lion’s share of U.S. farm subsidies at present because payments are tied to production volume.
Agriculture Department spending would fall 14 percent in the new fiscal year, due almost entirely to reduced SNAP benefits with the end of the pandemic, said the White House on Thursday. It proposed relatively modest initiatives at the USDA for fiscal 2024, such as offering free school meals to more poor children, while seeing golden potential in the new farm bill for broad-scale change.
Congress should give farm-state lawmakers additional funding for writing the new farm bill, said the National Farmers Union, the second-largest U.S. farm group, following its annual meeting. The NFU said the 2023 farm bill should address climate change through such steps as crop insurance discounts for farmers who plant cover crops or employ other practices that increase resiliency or decrease risk.
Some 644 environmental, farm, religious, wildlife and recreation groups urged the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture committees on Monday to protect the $20 billion earmarked last summer for climate-smart agriculture from farm-bill raids. "This is the largest investment in agriculture conservation and rural communities in decades and farmers, ranchers and foresters across the country are depending on these resources," said the groups in a letter.
When Congress writes the new farm bill, it should include incentives for farmers to adopt cover crops and purchase so-called precision agriculture equipment that more efficiently uses fertilizers and pesticides, said the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance on Wednesday.
The USDA has taken steps to encourage climate resilience in the farm sector, “but the department could do more,” said the Government Accountability Office on Thursday. In a report, it listed 13 options. Some were relatively modest, such as prioritizing climate resilience as part of conservation planning. Others were sure to be controversial, such as requiring farmers to adopt climate-resilient practices if they want premium subsidies on crop insurance.
The government has spent nearly $70 billion on disaster, trade war, and pandemic relief since the 2018 farm bill was enacted, a huge amount that shows the need for a strong farm safety net that’s written into law rather than on the fly, said farm-state senators on Thursday. They called for a stronger and expanded crop insurance program as the first line of support for farmers and ranchers against uncertain weather, volatile commodity markets, and rising production expenses.
Reps. Mary Miller of Illinois and Andy Harris of Maryland were part of the Republican bloc voting repeatedly against elevating Kevin McCarthy to House Speaker. Harris was the senior Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee in charge of USDA and FDA spending, and Miller served on the House Agriculture Committee in the past session of Congress.
With a farm bill fight brewing over President Biden’s climate agenda, House Republican leaders named Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn Thompson chair of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday. Thompson, who wants to expand farm supports, has accused the administration of acting as “a lone wolf” in setting up its $3.5 billion proposal to develop climate-smart commodities.
Meat, dairy, and livestock are likely to get a larger share of the funding than other commodities in the USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program, though it’s hard to track spending on the pilot projects, said a Union of Concerned Scientists blog on Thursday.
Cover crops have gained elite status as a way for farmers to fight climate change. But a closer look at the growing body of research raises questions about their ability to lower agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.