OMAHA (DTN) -- With two weeks left until the current farm bill expires, key players are still floating ideas about what should be in any new farm bill -- and pushing back on ideas as well.
Republican staff for the Senate Agriculture Committee are making the case that more farmers would benefit from the $18 billion in conservation spending from the Inflation Reduction Act if the money was rolled into the farm bill baseline.
The rules for using that IRA money would also have to be loosened to open eligibility beyond IRA mandates that the money prioritize farm practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon in the soil.
While debate continues over USDA's IRA dollars, the group that represents state agricultural directors nationally also is calling on Congress and USDA to create a more consistent disaster program for farmers and livestock producers.
With seemingly no real negotiations on a short-term funding bill to avoid a government shutdown, it's also unclear what kind of extension USDA's farm-bill programs will receive. The federal government's fiscal year and the five-year authorization of the farm bill both expire Sept. 30.
THAT IRA POT OF MONEY
GOP lawmakers -- who did not vote for the IRA last year -- have spent much of this year eyeing that nearly $18 billion pot of funds and looking for a way to roll it into the farm bill and use the dollars for other priorities, such as potentially raising reference prices for commodities. That money sitting outside the reach of the farm bill has become one of the biggest sticking points as lawmakers write a new farm bill.
In a blog item, the Senate Agriculture Committee minority staff laid out that a lot of traditional conservation practices that receive funds under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) do not qualify for "climate-smart" designations. Farmers might be eligible for funds under farm bill EQIP and CSP, but not under the IRA dollars.
"Climate mitigation is a laudable goal, and U.S. agriculture represents approximately 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. However, moving and then expanding IRA conservation dollars in the farm bill to address other resource concerns can help farmers and ranchers not only adopt practices on the farm that sequester carbon and reduce emissions, but the financial and technical assistance can help with regulatory compliance associated with Waters of the United States, Endangered Species Act, or the Clean Water Act among others," the Senate Ag GOP blog concluded.
USDA pushed back on the GOP analysis. A USDA spokesperson stated the IRA money "is helping more farmers than ever adopt the most innovative and effective types of conservation practices, and the programs are so popular that demand remains higher than the amount of funding available. The assertion that these new streams somehow take away from existing farm bill programs simply doesn't add up -- those traditional funds are still available. This is additive support for farmers, and they're demanding more of it."
The spokesperson added, "USDA has repeatedly shared data with Senate Ag leadership that documents this high demand, so it's puzzling why they'd issue such a report at a time they should be seeking consensus to pass a bipartisan Farm Bill that serves all its stakeholders."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has built his recent stump speeches around climate-smart dollars as a way to help raise income for producers. That begins with the $3.1 billion under the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities projects and rolls into the IRA dollars. By adding climate-smart practices to farms, producers will be able to market their products to companies focused on lowering carbon footprints in their supply chains.
Pointing to the push to raise reference prices, Vilsack told the National Farmers Union earlier this week it would cost $2 billion a year to do that and would only help "a few farmers." The IRA money is open to all farmers, Vilsack said. Speaking to reporters on a call Wednesday, Vilsack reiterated the need for using programs outside the commodity title to help small and medium-sized producers generate more income.
"It's a matter of equity, in a sense, that we need to make sure we're doing everything we can to create alternative and additional revenue streams," Vilsack said. He later added the farm bill needs to continue to support conservation. "They also need to make sure they don't interfere with the utilization of the full power of resources under the Inflation Reduction Act for conservation that can support climate smart."
DTN is a partner in the Farmers For Soil Health initiative that is part of the recent Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., also issued her own statement defending the IRA conservation money as well. Stabenow had fought to get the climate-smart dollars into the IRA a year ago. She noted the are record funding applications, including more than $2 billion in requests for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) as well. Stabenow flipped the script on the GOP analysis to note nearly half of all the funded conservation applications are implementing climate-smart practices, "and our farmers are excited about the potential of these programs to benefit the climate and their own bottom lines," Stabenow said.
She added, "It is surprising to see that these popular resources are being targeted for other priorities, but I am committed to defending them for their intended purposes. I know that there is a broad coalition of support standing with me."
Politico also quoted Stabenow earlier this week saying she is looking for "creative" ways to increase funding in the farm bill. Stabenow told Politico, "I absolutely support some reference price increase."
NO PRESSURE TO PASS FARM BILL
Earlier in the week, the Senate Ag GOP staff wrote another blog about farm income, pointing to the nearly 23% projected decline and calling for a "meaningful and enhanced farm safety net," as DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom wrote in a column for National Journal headlined, "No pressure to pass a farm bill."
While he noted the $141.3 billion projected farm income is $41.7 billion lower than 2022, Hagstrom also pointed out another line in the Economic Research Service (ERS) farm-income forecast, which states, "Despite this expected decline, net farm income in 2023 would be 22.6% above its 20-year average (2003-22) of $115.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars."
As Hagstrom noted, "In other words, farm income is high right now."
It's difficult to write a farm bill when income is higher because it basically means farmers are not pressuring lawmakers to immediately pass a new safety net.
STATE AG DIRECTOR PRIORITIES
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) passed a policy at the group's annual meeting in Cheyenne, Wyoming, this week calling on Congress and USDA to develop "comprehensive and reliable disaster programs" for farmers.
"Recent natural disasters and catastrophic events have highlighted the challenges farmers face in seeking disaster assistance," said Doug Miyamoto, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and NASDA's 2022-23 president. NASDA wants policies that give USDA more flexibility and authority to help farmers and ranchers in disasters, "especially small farms or specialty crop producers who compete on price instead of quantity," Miyamoto said.
NASDA also wants a program under insurance or disaster relief that deals with the gaps in insurance coverage and disaster programs, citing that these gaps in aid "leave farmers increasingly vulnerable to the growing number and severity of catastrophic natural disasters."
Senate Agriculture Committee minority blog: https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/…
Also see "USDA Officials Discuss Staffing Problems, Farm Bill With NFU Members" here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @ChrisClaytonDTN
(c) Copyright 2023 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.