USDA puts part of its climate windfall into land stewardship
Four popular USDA land stewardship and working lands programs will receive an additional $850 million this year to handle the perennial crush of applications for assistance, said the Biden administration on Monday. The outlay will be the Agriculture Department's first use of the $19.5 billion earmarked for its conservation programs in the climate, health and tax law passed last summer.
Farm bill priorities: More stewardship, less reliance on subsidies
The 2023 farm bill should eliminate wasteful subsidies to the biggest farmers and landowners in favor of programs that reach more producers at a lower cost, said a coalition of budget hawks, a consumer group and a small farm advocate in a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday.
Report: Biodiversity loss, climate change driving an ‘escalating nature crisis’
Wildlife populations plummeted 69 percent worldwide between 1970 and 2018, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Wildlife Fund. Food systems were a key driver of this biodiversity loss, responsible for 70 percent of the population decline of land animals and half of the decline in freshwater species. Conservation alone will not be enough to halt these declines, wrote the authors, who said that scaling up sustainable food production is crucial. (No paywall)
Experts stress importance of farmers in water conservation efforts
Modernizing a crumbling 19th-century irrigation system in Colorado and building spawning habitat for salmon downstream from thirsty California farms are among the nature-based projects in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill designed to help western states cope with drought.
Senate approves additional $20 billion for voluntary conservation practices
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.
Free crop insurance of conservation requirements, farm groups say
Congress ought to sever the link between access to reduced-price crop insurance policies and the requirement to protect wetlands and highly erodible land, said the leaders of two major Minnesota farm groups on Monday. Federally subsidized crop insurance, now the largest U.S. farm support, is becoming the flash point in discussions about the 2023 farm bill.
Frustrated by official process, conservationists release plan for wolves in Colorado
In November 2020, Colorado voters approved a measure to reintroduce gray wolves to the state, 76 years after the last wolf was killed there. Now Colorado Parks and Wildlife is developing a plan to reintroduce wolves. But conservation groups say the process to date hasn’t included enough public input and has instead been dominated by the very groups responsible for the eradication of wolves in the first place — hunters and ranchers. (No paywall)
U.S. creates pollinator conservation center
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will establish a Pollinator Conservation Center focusing on the decline of pollinating species, including the monarch butterfly, announced Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Thursday.
High commodity prices shift conservation lands to crop fields
Landowners told the USDA they will take 1.7 million acres out of the long-term Conservation Reserve and put it back into crop production, betting on profits from sky-high commodity prices. This year’s “general signup” for the reserve would also bring the smallest amount of land into the reserve …
New crop insurance policy for ‘split-apply’ nitrogen
Corn growers in 11 states can apply for crop insurance coverage this year for a practice that reduces nutrient runoff, said the Risk Management Agency on Wednesday. The policy will cover yield losses if bad weather prevents growers from making multiple applications of nitrogen fertilizer during key parts of the growing season.
Significant progress toward 30 by 30 goal, says White House
In a progress report, the Biden administration said on Monday that it has "made significant progress to support effective and enduring conservation strategies" en route to conserving 30 percent of U.S. land and waters by 2030. The "30 by 30" plan relies on locally led and voluntary stewardship but has been met in some regions with suspicion of a hidden federal motive.
A court decision may help endangered orcas, but Alaskan fishermen are wary
The U.S. District Court in Seattle seemed to offer endangered orca whales a lifeline in September when it issued a preliminary decision that might make more wild king salmon available to the marine mammals. But while the court decision is expected to help orcas, it may be bad news for fishermen.(No paywall)
New research shows hunting’s effect on sage grouse population is mixed
The sage grouse population fell so low during the 1990s that the chicken-sized species was considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Now, two researchers say that restrictions on hunting the sage grouse have a mixed record when it comes to the bird's numbers.
Project will measure carbon on idled U.S. cropland
A $10 million project will sample, measure, and monitor the amount of soil carbon in environmentally fragile cropland idled as part of the Conservation Reserve, said the USDA on Tuesday. Earlier this year, the agency said it would harness the reserve to mitigate climate change by paying landowners to implement climate-smart practices.
Ag coalition proposes climate mitigation for $100 an acre
At the same time farm-state lawmakers are trying to add $2 billion to $3 billion a year to USDA conservation programs, a coalition of farmers and ag groups says the price tag for climate mitigation on the farm should be much higher —$100 per acre or $40 billion a year when fully implemented. No paywall
Comity fractures in face of House Agriculture Committee ‘shenanigans’
Hostile Republicans finally got under the skin of gentlemanly Rep. David Scott. The House Agriculture chairman limited discussion during a committee hearing on Thursday — "We're here to deal with climate change and nothing else," he said — and told Republican Austin Scott, "I'm tired of your disrespect."
Farming boom threatens Biden’s climate and conservation goals
High prices for corn and soybeans, coupled with the ethanol mandate and generous crop insurance, are spurring farmers in the Great Plains to plow up native grasslands in favor of commodity crops. The loss of these ancient carbon sinks "poses a conundrum for the Biden administration," which wants to cut agriculture's carbon emissions to net zero and conserve 30 percent of the nation's land in a bid to protect biodiversity.(No paywall)
House panel approves $66 billion ag bill; change in ‘stepped-up basis’ is abandoned
The Democratic-controlled House Agriculture Committee approved its $66 billion part of President Biden's $3.5 trillion "build back better" bill on a party-line vote Monday, with Chairman David Scott saying he was confident that $28 billion will be added later for land stewardship and climate mitigation by farmers. Meanwhile, House Democrats said they would not alter a tax break that helps farmers pass land from generation to generation.