Senator Stabenow isn’t budging on protecting IRA funding for climate & agriculture programs; and neither are we.
In the ongoing negotiations to reauthorize the 2023 Farm Bill, one of the most contentious issues is the allocation of nearly $20 billion in climate-related agriculture funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a staunch advocate for sustainable agriculture has taken a firm stance to maintain this funding for the established conservation programs to help farmers reduce their emissions.
Earthjustice wholeheartedly supports Senator Stabenow’s approach and her dedication to preserving IRA funding for climate-smart agriculture. Given the broad and expansive footprint of agriculture, reducing agricultural emissions must be a central part of any strategy designed to mitigate climate change.
In recent discussions, some have suggested that IRA’s climate-smart requirements could undermine farmers or traditional conservation goals. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it’s important to debunk the myths feeding this false narrative.
Myth 1: IRA Conservation Funds Are a Limited Benefit to Farmers
Critics of the IRA claim that conservation resources are not effective in supporting farmers, citing concerns that the climate-smart requirements for IRA eligibility are too restrictive and include only a few funded projects. However, a closer look reveals a different story.
The IRA has dramatically improved access to conservation programs, making more funding available to ALL farmers for ALL conservation activities. It’s important to remember that more farmers seek conservation funding than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been able to award; in other words, already existing farmer demand exceeds the funds. With the IRA structure, more funding will go straight to what farmers have already indicated they want – climate-focused practices and other conservation methods. For example in FY21, the Climate Stewardship Program (CSP) had $750 million available for new contracts, with about 30 percent allocated to Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry (CSAF) practices. In FY22, the CSP had $800 million, with 38 percent supporting CSAF practices. This allocation for CSAF practices is comparable to the $250 million allocated to CSP in FY23 by the IRA. With the IRA’s supplemental funding pools, there’s ample funding available to meet this demand for CSAF practices and increase Farm Bill funding available for these and other conservation activities. The IRA aims to potentially increase the funding pool for conventional conservation efforts in FY23, potentially offering as much as $1 billion in available funds, effectively doubling the current amount.
A similar trend is observed in EQIP. In FY21, EQIP had approximately $1.267 billion available for new contracts, with about 30 percent allocated to CSAF practices. In FY22, this increased to about $1.282 billion, with 31 percent supporting CSAF practices. The IRA allocated $250 million to EQIP in FY23, again aligning with the demand for CSAF practices. This ensures that farmers who wish to implement these practices have ample funding available.
Additionally, any and every farmer can choose to apply for this funding and benefit from the greenhouse gas-reducing and carbon-sequestering activities, such as cover crops and reduced tillage. Some argue that the IRA funds only GHG-reducing practices, but the IRA also funds those healthy soil practices that can increase the carbon stored in soils or reduce the energy used on farms. And, thanks to the IRA funding, fewer applicants will be turned away, which helps bridge issues of oversubscription for conservation programs. The notion that only a fraction of projects would meet the IRA’s requirements is simply not accurate.
Myth 2: The IRA Ignores Local Conservation Needs and Demands for Specific Practices
Another myth is that the IRA exclusively prioritizes certain activities, overlooking the diverse conservation, natural resource, and wildlife habitat needs of farmers and ranchers. This claim is misleading, as the IRA’s focus on climate-smart agriculture complements, not replaces, broader environmental efforts.
The IRA’s allocation of funds to CSAF practices does not imply neglect of local needs. Instead, the IRA provides additional resources to address climate-smart agriculture and forestry activities, which are vital in combating climate change. The dual funding structure of the IRA makes it so that the funding functions as a supplemental pool of money for key programs like CSP, EQIP, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The separate pool of funding that has been available for traditional conservation work for decades through the Farm Bill remains unchanged. Farmers retain the flexibility to choose the conservation approach that best suits their needs. Whether it’s CSAF practices or traditional conservation activities, there are now more resources available to support farmers’ initiatives.
Myth 3: The IRA Leaves Traditional Conservation Practices Behind
Some argue that traditional conservation practices, vital to agriculture and sustainability, are being left behind by the IRA. It’s important to remember that IRA funding is only one piece of the larger conservation puzzle. The IRA seeks to balance climate-smart agriculture with traditional conservation efforts.
Many traditional conservation practices, including prescribed fire, brush management, and efficient irrigation, remain essential for achieving producers’ sustainability goals. While these practices may not qualify as climate-smart on their own, they are still valuable for addressing broader conservation and environmental concerns — and the IRA does nothing to discourage them. By adding funding for climate-focused practices, the IRA actually frees up funds from other Farm Bill programs – which are always oversubscribed – for these practices.
The Inflation Reduction Act represents a significant step forward in supporting agriculture and conservation. It has created an opportunity to establish a dedicated, permanent source of funds for farmers addressing climate change within their operations. It is imperative that Congress protect the IRA funding as is, as these resources would both mitigate climate risks for farmers and increase the resources available for broader conservation concerns.
Sen. Stabenow is championing a holistic approach that pairs climate-smart practices with traditional conservation methods. Ultimately, this will benefit farmers, ranchers, and the environment by not only reducing emissions but promoting sustainable agriculture and protecting our natural resources.
Based in Washington, D.C., Carrie is the deputy managing attorney of the Sustainable Food & Farming Program.
As the Legislative Director for Healthy Communities in the Policy & Legislation department at Earthjustice, Ranjani leads a team of advocates dedicated to defending and improving federal safeguards for clean air, clean water, and against toxics exposure.
Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food and Farming program aims to make our nation’s food system safer and more climate friendly.