By one yardstick — dollars spent under the 2018 farm bill — the cost-sharing Environmental Quality Incentives Program is the largest working lands conservation program at the USDA, said two University of Illinois economists on Thursday. They created an interactive map of EQIP spending that showed Texas and California were the leading states for outlays.
One of USDA's largest land stewardship programs "allocates too little funding to environmentally sensitive lands in one of the most important agricultural areas in the country," said the Environmental Working Group on Wednesday. In a report, the EWG said the cost-sharing Environmental Quality Incentives Program should be reformed to make climate change its primary purpose.
The 2023 farm bill should expand funding for USDA soil and water conservation programs and allow payments to the so-called early adopters of climate-smart farming practices, said the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture on Tuesday. NASDA said the farm bill "must remain unified" by pairing farm support and public nutrition programs in one piece of legislation.
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.
One of the last of the "Watergate babies" elected to Congress in 1974, Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy said on Monday he will retire next year after eight terms in the Senate that included stints as chairman of its Appropriations, Agriculture and Judiciary committees. Leahy shepherded passage of the national organic standards law in 1990 and oversaw expansion of SNAP and the school lunch program.
Lawmakers decided as part of the 2018 farm policy law to expand the voluntary Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent in exchange for idling fragile farmland for 10 years or longer. Although the expansion was expected to be popular — offering steady income after years of low commodity prices — it hasn't panned out. Enrollment continues a decline that began in 2007.
Some growers may collect three or even four payments on land where they were unable to plant a crop this spring due to persistent rain and flooding, but no one is going to get rich off of it, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday.
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.
The Republican-sponsored House farm bill unveiled on Thursday would expand the land-idling Conservation Reserve by one-fifth and eliminate the green-payment Conservation Stewardship Program.
The USDA spends several billion dollars a year on voluntary land stewardship programs. With the 2018 farm bill on the horizon, two members of the House Agriculture Committee have unveiled legislation that would require the USDA to evaluate and report on the impact of the soil and water projects it bankrolls.
The senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, and Iowa Republican Joni Ernst have proposed a tripling of funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program as part of legislation that would give the program more flexibility.
When Congress writes the 2018 farm bill, lawmakers should retain the requirement for producers to practice land stewardship if they want coverage under the federally subsidized crop insurance system, said the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. In The Hill newspaper, NSAC policy specialist Alyssa Charney also called for stronger enforcement of the so-called conservation compliance rules.
The Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners to idle fragile cropland, should be expanded to 40 million acres from its current 24 million acres, said Pheasants Forever, a hunting and wildlife habitat group, at the first congressional subcommittee hearing for the 2018 farm bill. Land stewardship and farm groups urged larger funding for two USDA programs aimed at working lands.
The maximum payment through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program will rise to $450,000 from the current $300,000, said USDA ahead of publishing an interim final rule that would incorporate changes made by the 2014 farm law.
Farmers in Ohio can get up to $2 million in cost-share money to reduce run-off into Lake Erie, said USDA, acting only weeks after algae blooms in the lake disrupted the water supply for Toledo.