WASHINGTON — The agricultural bill is an exception to the Republicans’ general lack of specificity regarding their policy aims; however, these Republicans have a good chance of winning control of Congress in this week’s midterm elections.
In the event that Republicans win control of the House and Senate in the United States in 2023, they are sending strong signals that they intend to remove funds for environmental protection from sweeping legislation. Advocates for the protection of farmland who had hoped that it would become one of the most substantial investments ever made in climate-smart practices on American agriculture would be disappointed by this news.
Late in October, Republican members of the agriculture committees in both the House and the Senate sent letters to the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, protesting what they claimed was a lack of consultation with Congress and asking for justification for the administration’s recent investment in “climate-smart agriculture.”
Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, made the announcement in September that $2.8 billion will be allocated for research and pilot programs to assist environmentally friendly food production. Later on in this year, the agency intends to make an announcement regarding a second group of “climate-smart commodities” projects.
On October 27th, Arkansas Senator John Boozman, who holds the position of ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, posed a question to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, requesting a report on the department’s justification for its spending.
In addition, a number of Republicans in the House of Representatives stated that Congress ought to have been engaged prior to the beginning of the climate program “in this challenging farm economy when so many are struggling with increased input costs, drought, and an ongoing supply chain issue.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, and Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, along with eight other Republicans from the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of lawmakers that purports to be a “voice for rural America,” wrote in a letter dated October 28 that “We are dismayed at the lack of transparency and congressional consultation throughout the development of this process.”
On the every fifth year
Every five years, lawmakers are required to draft the comprehensive farm bill in order to determine the policies that will govern agricultural, food, and conservation programs as well as the budget levels for those programs. By September 2023, the enactment of the subsequent agricultural bill must have been authorized.
Agriculture and environmental advocacy groups have been gearing up for the possibility that the next farm bill will contain a sizeable section for “climate-smart” farm practices. Some examples of these practices include funding for farmers to plant trees and cover crops, reducing the amount of water they use, and not tilling the soil.
If this is the case, it would be the first time in more than three decades that the farm bill would specifically address the issue of climate change. The administration of Vice President Joe Biden has come out in favour of such tactics, particularly the use of a general fund that is earmarked for agricultural support in order to pay new research on farmland climate mitigation.
The members of the Agriculture Committee like to brag about the fact that they develop the farm bill using a process that involves both parties, but the topic of how much emphasis should be placed on climate change is one that obviously already is splitting the parties.
In the draft budget that it put out as a “Blueprint to Save America,” the Republican Study Committee, whose members make up 80% of all Republican members of Congress, suggested making significant cutbacks to the agriculture bill. It argues against investing in a “radical climate agenda” and presents a strategy to defund farm bill conservation programs that pay farmers to retire environmentally sensitive croplands. These programs are funded by the farm bill.
A significant disagreement also surrounds the Inflation Reduction Act, which was approved by Congress in the month of August. It is equipped with a suite of programs to combat climate change, one of which allocates more than twenty billion dollars to climate investments on agriculture. It is possible that this could be included in the next farm bill, which would result in historic investment on agricultural protection.
According to the findings of an analysis conducted by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Inflation Reduction Act would result in an increase of around 47 percent over the levels of the last farm bill.
On the other hand, senior Republicans on the Agriculture Committees in both the House and the Senate have indicated that they might not make any extra investments in climate provisions.
According to Boozman, the money for agricultural climate projects constitutes “misplaced priorities,” and he has stated that this could compromise the process of passing a farm bill.
Boozman made such statements on the Senate floor in August. He was referring to a provision in the measure that “unilaterally creates a multibillion-dollar slush fund for agricultural bill interests shared by the president and his cronies.”
“At the Agriculture Committee, we have a long and illustrious history of working together… sadly, with this decision the majority has disrupted that dynamic… According to Boozman, “they have damaged one of the last successful bipartisan procedures surviving in the Senate.”
Similarly, on the House side, Pennsylvania Republican Glenn Thompson, who is the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, stated during a hearing that the financing for the IRA “endangered the bipartisan support” for the farm bill conservation title. Thompson is a member of the House. Should Republicans capture a majority in the House, it is possible that Thompson will be appointed to the position of chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Thompson told the other members of the committee, “I will not sit idly by as we let decades of real bipartisan progress be turned on its head to satisfy people that, at their core, think agriculture is a blight on the landscape.” “I will not sit idly by as we let decades of real bipartisan progress be turned on its head to satisfy people that, at their core, think agriculture is “I have been leaning into the discussion about climate change, but I will not have it my way that we suddenly integrate buzzwords like regenerative agriculture into the Farm Bill or that we place an excessive emphasis on climate.”
I do not feel constrained by the amount of funds or the particular program allocation that was approved in the partisan IRA bill. “I am particularly concerned about allocating all of the new money specifically for climate change rather than allowing the locally led process to function,” said Thompson.
The opposition from Republicans comes at a time when there is an extraordinary amount of momentum in the agricultural world behind the promotion of “climate-smart” methods.
There are a lot of doors that may be opened in order to turn the upcoming farm bill into a climate agriculture bill. According to Anne Schechinger, who serves as the Midwest director for the Environmental Working Group, “there is a lot of movement.”
A coalition of more than 150 progressive, agricultural, and environmental organizations is lobbying for the next farm bill to include investments in research, technical support, and financial incentives to assist farmers and ranchers in cutting emissions. They made this request in a letter that was sent in September to Vice President Joe Biden. The letter urged the government to “address the climate catastrophe head on” in the upcoming agriculture bill.
Those in favor of this measure include community farm groups, state farm cooperatives, and several environmental organizations, including the Environmental Working Group.
However, environmental organizations aren’t the only ones advocating for additional study and investment in climate-aware behaviors and activities.
As part of a gradual transition that has taken place over the years, many agricultural organizations have come out in favor of investing in climate-related projects for farmers that are optional. During earlier debates on the farm bill or climate, certain farming and agribusiness groups opposed climate programs out of the fear that they would result in an excessive number of controls placed on agriculture.
However, over the course of the past two years, prominent agricultural organizations have come together to form what they call a “food and agriculture climate alliance.” Their goal is to offer suggestions about climate policy.
The National Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and various trade groups representing sugar, cotton, corn, and rice growers are all members of this organization.
Last year, when farmers traveled to Washington, D.C. to urge politicians for help, the National Farmers Union included climate change programs in its “days of advocacy.” These days were held by the National Farmers Union. In addition, the American Farm Bureau Federation, a more conservative organization, has come out in full support of climate-smart solutions for farmers.
As a result of this momentum, a number of knowledgeable individuals believe that the next farm bill will go in the direction of increased spending on climate initiatives regardless of which party controls the gavel; however, they may not do so as explicitly if Republicans win control.
“Who knows what phrase the farm bill might ultimately decide to use, but I think it is inevitable, regardless of who is in charge, that this farm bill will tackle climate change more directly,” said Ferd Hoefner, a consultant on farm and food policy who is based in Washington, D.C. and has worked on nine previous farm bills. Hoefner has been involved in the drafting of the farm bill in each of the last nine years.
1990 agriculture bill
The only farm bill that had previously specifically funded “climate change” was the 1990 farm bill, which had a title devised in reaction to the severe droughts that had occurred in 1988 called “Global Climate Change.”
The conservation title of previous farm bills did not include language addressing climate change; nevertheless, it did include billions of dollars for programs that pay farmers to rest environmentally sensitive area, protect wildlife habitat, or make environmental improvements to working lands.
According to Schechinger, “we might not necessarily see the phrase ‘climate’ come up in the farm bill as much if Republicans do win control, but a lot of these conservation programs are genuinely supported by both parties.”
However, Schechinger believes that the USDA needs to do a better job of investing money for conservation in activities that are beneficial to the environment. Some schemes, such as those involving cover crops, have proven to be useful.
However, other methods, such as animal manure lagoons, that are paid for by the farm bill might actually result in an increase in the amount of carbon emissions produced by farms. According to an examination of federal data conducted by EWG, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has spent a total of $174 million on animal waste storage facilities around the country since 2017, as part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
According to Schechinger, “we are spending millions of dollars on some of these techniques that are actually detrimental to climate change and that actually raise emissions.”
The organization advocates for an increase in the cost share and prioritization for climate-smart activities to be included in the next farm bill. This will encourage more farmers to engage in policies that cut emissions.