Inflation Reduction Act Funding for Climate-Smart Agriculture
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law on August 16, 2022. Among its other aims, the act includes investments in federal programs that address the climate crisis, like those in support of climate-smart agriculture practices. As such, part of the IRA’s $19.5 billion package includes funding for oversubscribed conservation programs implemented by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In fiscal year 2023, this means $850 million will be available for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Additional Investments for Thousands of Farmers and Millions of Acres
In total, the IRA will provide an additional $1.4 billion for ACEP, $4.95 billion for RCPP, $8.45 billion for EQIP, and $3.25 billion for CSP. The funding begins in fiscal year 2023 and will continue to rapidly build over the span of four years. Providing direct mitigation benefits, these programs will support climate-smart agriculture through financial and technical assistance to help farmers advance on-farm conservation practices.
Formerly, there have been about twice as many farmers applying for CSP as those who receive funding. The IRA will help to address the issue of oversubscription and underfunding. According to the USDA, “These additional investments are estimated to help hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers apply conservation to millions of acres of land.”
What are Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices?
To date, the IRA is the most significant federal investment in climate-smart agriculture. It bolsters existing USDA programs that mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis while strengthening a farm operation. So, what are examples of climate-smart agriculture?
Climate-smart agriculture practices are numerous and varied. For farmers, they include activities like resource-conserving crop rotations, buffer strips, and even mulching to improve soil health. Climate-smart agricultural examples for ranchers include rotational grazing and forage plantings that help to increase organic matter in depleted soil.
CSP at a Glance
The CSP helps forest and agricultural producers take their existing conservation efforts and climate-smart practices to the next level. Covering more acres on a multi-year basis than other conservation programs, CSP encourages farmers and ranchers to protect natural resources and improve the environment—while supporting profitability.
The technical and financial assistance targets five key conservation areas:
- Air, soil, and water quality
- Carbon sequestration
- Biodiversity and pollinator and wildlife habitat
- Natural resource concerns in a particular area (i.e., erosion, water quality)
- Water and energy conservation
Agricultural producers who make use of eligible climate-smart agricultural practices can apply for CSP funding. The enrollment process is competitive. Applications are ranked based on conservation plans, which are developed with an NRCS agent. Fortunately, as a result of the IRA, more producers in 2023 will have access to conservation assistance and funding from the CSP.
Get Paid for the Climate-Smart Practices You Use
“The Inflation Reduction Act provided a once-in-a-generation investment in conservation on working lands, and we want to work with agricultural and forest landowners to invest in climate-smart practices that create value and economic opportunity for producers,” said Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. Payment amounts vary and are based on conservation practices, but all CSP contracts pay a minimum annual payment of $1,500 (up to approximately $40,000 a year).
If you control land and its production, you’re eligible for CSP. This includes landowners, renters, and owners who crop share. To take advantage of CSP’s increased funding as a result of the IRA, it’s imperative to apply by your state’s ranking dates. In Ohio, the first application cutoff date for the IRA-CSP funding pool is April 7, 2023.
To begin the application process, contact your local NRCS office. Along with an agent, you can use Ohio’s IRA CSP activity list to determine eligibility for the program. Based on the climate-smart agriculture activities you use and plan to use, you’ll work with an agent to complete the Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART). Your conservation efforts will be assessed against those from other applicants. If you rank highly, you will be offered a five-year contract and funding. Historically underserved farmers receive special consideration.
The Benefits of CSP
Thousands of people voluntarily enroll in CSP—a number that will be even higher as a result of IRA funding. They often see real results, like improved wildlife habitats, increased resiliency to extreme weather and market volatility, and a decreased spending on agricultural inputs. Do you engage with CSP and the use of climate-smart agriculture practices? If so, please contact us to share your experiences. The 2023 Farm Bill provides an opportunity for us to continue advocating for NRCS programs like CSP.
A Transformational Approach to the 2023 Farm Bill
Written by Ricardo Salvador, 2023 OEFFA Conference Keynote
The upcoming reauthorization of the farm bill will be the 23rd iteration of this legislation. According to Jonathan Coppess and Chris Adamo—Vermont Law School teachers of a course on the “modern farm bill”—this version could be revolutionary. They see the main driver of this potential departure being the role agriculture could play in mitigating climate change.
A Push for Business As Usual—But a Need for Something New
A problem with this otherwise sensible prediction is that it would require genuine change in farm practices and the policies that incentivize and support the structure of farming.
Already, the incoming chair of the House Agriculture Committee is on record stating that he “will not have us suddenly incorporate buzzwords like regenerative agriculture into the farm bill or overemphasize climate.” The president of the Iowa Farm Bureau—the most influential state chapter of the powerful national federation—wants the bill to stay the same, and continue to distribute public largesse without any expectation that it will return verifiable environmental benefits.
Of greatest concern is that in its recent announcements of nearly $3 billion in “climate smart commodity” awards, the USDA has amply demonstrated that the politics of farm country and agribusiness will dilute the Department’s ability to promote and support effective climate change action through agriculture.
There is a scientific component to this, but the most important factor is political. A patchwork of “climate friendly” voluntary practices used during any given production year will have limited ability to reverse greenhouse gas contributions—regardless of farmers’ positive intent. For this sector to meaningfully reverse its emissions, the massive changes in land use and row-crop and livestock production that are needed can only be brought about by the wide-reaching legislative power of the farm bill.
Revolutionary Farm Bills Throughout History
This brings us to the Coppess and Adamo analysis. On their telling, there have only been three truly revolutionary farm bills. They define these as legislation that completely shifted the direction of farm policy.
The most recent was the disastrous “Freedom to Farm” bill of 1996. It attempted to eliminate farm subsidies through a transitional program, but instead led to the consolidation of farmland into larger operations, and the failure and displacement of thousands of family farms. The system of government support was rapidly restored in the subsequent 2002 Farm Bill.
The first farm bill in 1933 was revolutionary precisely because it recognized the government’s essential role in agriculture: to manage the market for agricultural products in a way that farmers could not accomplish on their own. Farmers, and all of U.S. society, have lived since then with the reality of the determinative role of government programs in farming. All farm bill debates have largely been about whom and what to support with this massive public intervention (the current bill is a $428 billion package of tax dollars).
This brings up the remaining revolutionary farm bill, and a lesson for how to break the impasse created by powerful organizations and corporate interests dependent on government support—and which therefore have a stake in shaping and controlling “status quo” farm bills. The 1985 Food Security Act expanded the traditional interest groups vying for public tax dollars by bringing in the anti-hunger community.
This is what Coppess and Adamo identify as the beginning of the “modern” farm bill era, since the “Farm Bill Coalition” created to pass that bill has not only persisted, but the new “nutrition programs” they sponsored have become the lion’s share of the bill, capturing 76.1 percent of the most recent farm bill spending. The “farm side” and “nutrition side” need one another to be politically viable. And this is the ultimate lesson that Coppess and Adamo drew: it is all about the coalitions you bring to the debate.
Shaking Up the Status Quo
At the Union of Concerned Scientists, we have been working with a large number of partners, including OEFFA, to shape a new, broader coalition for the farm bill debate. By definition, a status quo approach to the farm bill begins with the existing legislation as a template, and is about making minimal adjustments.
A transformational approach calls for us to ask what we need from a 21st century food system, and to then craft that legislation without the constraints of programs designed to answer different questions from a different era.
The new coalition is led by the notion that many have a stake, in particular groups representing large communities historically excluded from shaping farm and food policy. We see the bill as a vehicle to center the racial justice issues accounting for farming being a dominantly white occupation, with the labor side of the farm and food system being a conspicuously Brown and Black work force.
This is why the coalition marks the return of the labor sector, which was an essential partner with farmers—as a grassroots, working-class coalition—in shaping the original agricultural policies embedded in the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act.
No matter your perspective, we can agree this is indisputably a transformational approach to the traditional “farm bill debate.” Accordingly, the coalition’s priority demands are seen as a package, a set of issues so interrelated they cannot be effectively addressed by breaking them apart. They are:
- Center racial justice
- End hunger
- Meet the climate crisis head on
- Increase access to nutritious food
- Ensure safety and dignity for food and farm workers
- Protect farmers and consumers
- Ensure the safety of our food supply
All of us who are involved are pragmatic, and understand this approach is a long shot. This is because of powerful entrenched interests (the agribusiness lobby is larger than the defense lobby), and not because this suite of issues is not well-framed, urgent, and relevant to the times in which we live.
The status quo interests have vulnerabilities, key among which is the difficulty they will have in making the straight-faced argument that they need more of the lavish public support that has led to historical farm profits and farmland values. Coppess, who has authored what I consider to be the landmark book on the farm bill’s history, has been warning Midwest farm groups that the sailing might not be smooth for the “bipartisan approach” (code word for status quo) that such groups would like to see in the bill.
At the upcoming OEFFA conference, we will discuss the prospects, strategy, and progress of this transformational campaign, and the key role that OEFFA can play in advancing this work. After all, the farm bill is legislation in which every person in the nation has a stake, and no effort to take part in the farm bill process can be credible without the genuine and active participation of farmer groups.
Ricardo Salvador is an agronomist and the director and senior scientist of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His keynote address, A Transformational Idea for the 2023 Farm Bill, will take place on Saturday, February 18 at the 2023 OEFFA Conference. Learn more about OEFFA’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform.