GAITHERSBURG, Md. August 11, 2022 ---- The Inflation Reduction Act approved by the Senate August 7 includes over $19 billion in appropriations over the next five years for USDA conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers adopt better conservation systems.
The funds would be used to help farmers and ranchers adopt practices that increase carbon in the soil, reduce nitrogen loss, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide and methane.
If enacted, the funds would represent a significant increase over the $30 billion expected to be spent over the next five years for the five major USDA farm and ranch conservation programs. The new funding would be a one-time infusion of funds that – if properly used -- could help transform crop and livestock production in the US over the next decade.
That transformation could substantially improve the farming sector’s climate footprint, reduce polluted runoff into our rivers and lakes, and improve wildlife habitat, while beginning to restore the health of our soils and raising farm income by reducing input costs for fertilizers, fuel and pesticides. Investments in soil health practices like eliminating plowing and tilling, planting winter cover crops, using more diverse crop rotations, and rotational grazing of livestock provide benefits for multiple natural resources.
What could that transformation look like on the landscape?
* By focusing $6 billion of the funds on an initiative to pay for most of the cost of planting cover crops through streamlined 5-year contracts, American farmers could put cover crops on 50 million more acres of cropland, more than tripling the acres of farmland using a practice critical to restoring healthy soil. Cover crops feed the soil and help hold it in place, and they provide nutrients that can replace the need for chemical fertilizer for crops that follow.
* Focusing $3 billion in funding on an initiative to upgrade grazing land management with investments in fencing, water and producer training to transition to intensively managed rotational grazing could improve grazing management on 100 million acres of pasture and rangeland.
* 250,000 acres of wetlands and over one million acres of native prairie could be restored and permanently protected with the funds included in the legislation. We have lost over half of the wetlands we once had in the Continental US, and native prairie is North America’s most endangered ecosystem.
* Soil health plans could be developed for 300,000 farms and ranches using expertise from USDA, local conservation districts, private soil health advisors, soil health organizations, and rural cooperatives.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program – The largest appropriation for agriculture conservation ($8.45 billion) is for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, to provide a share of the cost for farmers and ranchers wanting to adopt climate-friendly practices. Those can include cropland practices like eliminating tillage, growing winter cover crops, using more diverse crop rotations, and Integrated Pest Management, along with managed rotational grazing of grasslands.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program – The RCPP would get $4.95 billion over four years, a huge increase from the current funding of $300 million per year. Under RCPP, state and local partners propose initiatives that focus USDA conservation dollars in targeted areas to achieve regional conservation objectives – in this case, promoting climate-friendly farm and ranch practices. The bill would prioritize ‘alternative funding arrangement’ projects through RCPP which allow partners to provide payments directly to farmers (under traditional RCPP agreements NRCS maintains contracts and pays farmers directly.)
Conservation Stewardship Program – CSP would receive $3.25 billion over 4 years. CSP provides funding to help farmers and ranchers implement whole farm conservation plans that address critical resource problems in an area. The money could be used for state-specific or region-specific climate friendly farming systems. CSP payments could also reward early adopters of climate friendly practices, providing support for maintaining those systems.
Agriculture Conservation Easement Program -- $1.4 billion over 4 years would be appropriated to ACEP, which funds the restoration and long-term protection of wetlands, native prairie, and other farmland. The funds would be for ACEP projects that will reduce, capture, avoid, or sequester CO2, methane, or NOx emissions associated with the eligible land.
Conservation Reserve Program – the bill does not provide additional dollars or additional acres for the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners to remove marginal, vulnerable cropland from production and plant grasses, shrubs or trees to provide conservation benefits. The program should continue to play an important role in USDA’s conservation toolbox and could do even more if focused as a transition program to restore soil health and reverse the historic loss of grasslands.
Conservation Technical Assistance – the bill would provide $1 billion in 2022 for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide conservation planning and advice to farmers, along with $300 million to quantify and track the carbon and greenhouse gas impacts of conservation activities funded through the bill. The bill also includes $100 million for administrative costs related to the technical assistance and greenhouse gas impact work.
Future funding – the bill would provide a one-time infusion of over $19 billion for USDA to help farmers and ranchers adopt climate-friendly farming and ranching systems, but there is no guarantee that the funding would be continued for the future when Congress crafts a new Farm Bill in 2023.
USDA Conservation Programs
|FY 2022 ||FY 2023 ||FY 2024 ||FY 2025 ||FY 2026 ||Total |
|Environmental Quality Incentives Program || ||$250 ||$1,750 ||$3,000 ||$3,450 ||$8,450 |
|Regional Conservation Partnership Program || ||$250 ||$800 ||$1,500 ||$2,400 ||$4,950 |
|Conservation Stewardship Program || ||$250 ||$500 ||$1,000 ||$1,500 ||$3,250 |
|Agriculture Conservation Easement Program || ||$100 ||$200 ||$500 ||$600 ||$1,400 |
|NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance to farmers ||$1,000 || || || || ||$1,000 |
|NRCS quantification of carbon. NRCS program administration ||$300|
| || || || ||$400 |
|$1,400 ||$850 ||$3,250 ||6,000 ||$7,950 ||$19,450 |
As important as the farm and ranch conservation funding pieces are, they are only part of the larger package. In addition to a host of tax credits and other clean energy programs, for rural areas the legislation also includes:
* $1.72 billion for the Rural Energy for America Program, to provide loans and grants for energy audits and installing energy efficiency and renewable energy for farmers and rural businesses, plus $304 million for loans and grants for underutilized renewable energy technologies.
* $500 million to provide grants for up 75% of the cost of infrastructure needed to increase the use of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, such as storage tanks, blender pumps, or related equipment.
* $9.7 billion in loans or grants to help rural electric cooperatives obtain renewable energy, zero-emission systems, or carbon capture and storage systems.
* $1.8 billion for hazardous fuels reduction on National Forest lands near urban areas, $200 million for other vegetation management projects, and $50 million to inventory and protect old growth forests in the National Forest system, plus $100 million for the Forest Service to complete environmental reviews under NEPA.
* $700 million for the Forest Legacy Program to acquire land and conservation easements to protect forest threatened by development, which could protect perhaps 450,000 acres of vulnerable forest. The legislation includes $1.5 billion for the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program which funds tree planting in urban areas.
Other Public Lands
* $500 million for conservation, protection, resiliency, and habitat restoration on National Parks and Bureau of Land Management land, some of which could be used to provide for better grazing management on BLM lands. $500 million is included to hire more Nation Park Service employees, plus $200 million to address deferred maintenance projects at National Parks.
*$4 billion for projects to reduce water use or conserve water in states in the northern Great Plains or west, especially in the Colorado River Basin, or to restore ecosystems harmed by drought.
Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League fights for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and conservation of our natural resources for future generations. The League plays a unique role in supporting community-based conservation and volunteer science and has a long legacy of shaping sound national policy. See www.iwla.org.
Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League, email@example.com.
Michael Reinemer, Director of Communications, Izaak Walton League of America, firstname.lastname@example.org, 301-548-0105 ext. 220