The climate, tax and healthcare bill passed by Democratic senators on Sunday included $20 billion to ramp up USDA's voluntary land stewardship programs, a potential windfall for climate mitigation ahead of the 2023 farm bill. "We are equipping farmers, foresters and rural communities with the necessary tool to be part of the solution," said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.
Farm-state lawmakers would have the funds to write a climate-focused farm bill if Congress enacts a broad-ranging package that President Biden on Thursday called “the most significant legislation in history to tackle the climate crisis.” The package includes $20 billion for voluntary conservation practices on the farm to sequester greenhouse gases in soils, plants, and trees.
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.
Farmers and landowners would share a combined $5 billion in payments for planting cover crops to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff under a proposal written by farm state Democrats in the Senate and House. The package would also boost spending on a handful of existing stewardship programs for total outlays of $28 billion.
Economic concerns are often a driving factor when farmers decide whether to adopt conservation practices such as cover crops or diversified crop rotations, said the AGree farm policy initiative in a paper released on Wednesday. The paper called for more coordination of conservation practices with the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance system.
The chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee called on Thursday for a $50 billion increase in funding for the USDA's stewardship programs to combat climate change on farms and ranches. And a USDA report said forests could absorb an even larger share of U.S. carbon emissions than the current 14 percent through a combination of tree planting and prudent management.
Lawmakers should increase funding for the USDA's land stewardship programs as part of the administration's infrastructure bill because funding will probably be tight when Congress writes the 2023 farm bill, dozens of farm, conservation, and environmental groups said in a letter.
Robert Bonnie, named USDA climate adviser on the same day President Biden took office, will soon be in charge of all farm support programs, from land stewardship to farm subsidies and crop insurance, if confirmed by the Senate. Biden nominated Bonnie for undersecretary for farm production and conservation, arguably the highest-profile sub-cabinet post at USDA, on Friday.
Farmers expect to be paid for climate mitigation, and not at the expense of the traditional farm subsidies, said the president of the largest U.S. farm group during a discussion of President Biden's goal of an agriculture sector that achieves net-zero emission of greenhouse gases by 2050. Other ag leaders on the panel organized by USDA agreed there must be a financial payoff for the voluntary, incentive-based practices espoused by the administration to succeed.
As part of an administration initiative, the USDA will consider including reused water, also known as recycled or reclaimed water, in its land stewardship and community development programs. "Water reuse is going to be how agriculture continues to increase productivity while decreasing our environmental footprint," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday.
Three weeks after President Trump boasted of protecting crop insurance in the 2018 farm bill, the White House proposed a 31 percent cut in the federally subsidized program on Monday. The cuts, part of the administration's budget package for fiscal 2021, were proposed — and rejected by lawmakers — in previous years.
Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who defeated Freedom Caucus stalwart Rep. Dave Brat in a central Virginia upset last November, will be the only first-term lawmaker to chair a House Agriculture subcommittee this session, announced committee chairman Collin Peterson on Thursday.
Under orders from President Trump to cut spending by 5 percent, the USDA may try to slash the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program, eliminate a green-payment program, or take an ax to its research agencies, if recent proposals are any indication.
Two days after farm bill negotiators declared unity in working together on the 2018 farm bill, the House author of the most controversial proposal on the table — stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients — attacked Senate negotiators as weak-willed.
A public opinion survey commissioned by the Johns Hopkins school of public health found that six in 10 voters oppose cuts in food stamps, the largest U.S. anti-hunger program. SNAP is the major issue in Senate and House negotiations over the 2018 farm bill.
Two Republicans joined the Democratic minority in the Senate on Wednesday to defeat a White House proposal to cut federal spending by $15 billion. The cuts were intended as a counterweight to the $1.3 trillion spending bill approved in March.
Michael Conaway, the Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, proposed a dramatic change in SNAP today that would significantly tighten eligibility rules for the program.
With the big budget battle in another arena, House appropriators proposed steady-as-you go funding for the USDA and FDA in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. President Trump has proposed cutting food stamps by 25 percent and crop insurance by 36 percent.