Food, Ag and Climate Strategies

Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance Lays Out Policy Agenda for Farm Bill

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Leaders from farm groups involved in the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance released a group of policy recommendations to boost climate strategies in the farm bill and USDA programs. At the front table were Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union; Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation; Randy Russell, president of the Russell Group; Elizabeth Gore, a senior vice president with Environmental Defense Fund; and Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- A coalition of more than 80 farm and environmental organizations on Wednesday sent to Congress and the Biden administration a list of recommendations for the next farm bill to tackle climate change.

The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA) has become a political force in dealing with climate issues involving agricultural policy. Its recommendations touch on issues in the farm bill ranging from conservation to crop insurance to research investments.

"When we talk about climate, we're also talking about important co-benefits, such as increasing soil health, enhancing water quality, and protecting wildlife habitat," said Randy Russell, founder of the Russell Group, a lobbying firm that focuses on agricultural issues. "We're looking at the entire system and have chosen not to get caught up in terminology."


While not all of FACA's recommendations come with costs, a great many do. Congress is already caught up in debates about cutting spending for domestic programs, including questions over costs of nutrition programs under USDA. Even without new spending, the next farm bill more than likely be the most expensive in history.

Russell said FACA members did not do cost estimates on its recommendations.

Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, agreed that Congress is facing challenges over spending and conflicting interests between funding nutrition and agriculture.

"It's a matter of high concern among the committees of jurisdiction, no question about that," Conner said.

Still, Conner noted FACA is a diverse group with more than 80 organizations that back its proposals.

"This is the first time that I've seen a farm bill where this kind of diversity has come together with policy recommendations. So, despite our size and diversity, our charge, in many ways, is pretty narrow. And it is relative to climate, what I would call climate-smart agriculture. And all that applies. And that does touch a number of titles in the Farm Bill. But it's still very, very focused in terms of its intent."

Conner added that climate investments have become a focus for Congress, but have also become a bigger priority for several agribusiness and agricultural groups.

While USDA was given $19.5 billion to boost conservation programs in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) last fall, FACA seeks "robust funding" in a few of USDA's key conservation programs "to encourage practices that improve soil health, increase carbon sequestration, reduce emissions and improve the resilience of farm and ranch operations."

Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president for political affairs at Environmental Defense Fund, also defended calls to boost funding for USDA's suite of conservation programs.

"These are programs that have been underfunded and overprescribed for a long time," Gore said.


Last week, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report called for regulatory changes to set higher standards for farmers to qualify for crop insurance or commodity programs. FACA sticks to its policy that climate investments should be "voluntary, market- and incentive-based."

FACA members want more conservation technical assistance for both farmers and livestock producers. They also want to see the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service streamline its enrollment and approval process. FACA also wants the farm bill or USDA to develop incentives that recognize and reward early adopters of climate-smart practices.

"It is important for us to support these early adopters because they are the pioneers, and those pioneers are going to lead to everybody else with the additional programs that are coming forward," said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Similar to one of the GAO recommendations, FACA proposed providing more incentives for farmers to adopt cover crops and other climate-smart practices, possibly through "new crop insurance policies and endorsements." FACA cited a process dubbed 508 (h) that allows groups to pitch new crop insurance policy changes to USDA.

Another recommendation calls for a study or multiple studies in the farm bill to look at the interaction between crop insurance and climate-smart practices. "USDA should identify potential policies or modifications to crop insurance that constrain the adoption of climate-smart farming practices," the group stated.

Trying to address farmers who rent a high percentage of their ground, FACA also supports incentives within USDA that would increase conservation on rented ground "with a particular focus on rented tribal land."


Within the recommendations for livestock, FACA calls on the farm bill to direct USDA to develop a regulatory pathway to streamline the approval process for animal biotechnology. This area right now is already a regulatory turf battle between FDA, which claims authority over biotechnology animals, and livestock groups that want to see USDA take the ball regarding biotech animals.

Another recommendation would encourage NRCS to develop conservation planning for livestock producers that incorporates changes in feed and nutrition management to reduce livestock emissions as well.

FACA also wants the farm bill to direct NRCS to identify grazing and pasture regions and practices that have the best potential to reduce emissions.


FACA supports a program that would provide more incentives to historically underserved producers, including doubling the Farm Service Agency (FSA) Microloan Program from $50,000 to $100,000. At the same time, FACA called on support for USDA to waive limits on adjusted gross income (AGI) for higher-income producers to incentivize them to participate in USDA conservation and climate efforts.

FACA members also want to see the FSA's direct farm operating loan limit increased from $400,000 to $600,000 to deal with the increased costs tied to both inputs and land access.


Similar again to the GAO report, FACA also recommends greater funding for USDA's Climate Hubs to increase research and outreach for climate strategies. That includes providing better links between the regional Climate Hubs and USDA's chief science agencies, as well as using Extension services to distribute information from the Climate Hubs over ways to mitigate emissions or practices that improve the resiliency of farms and ranches.

The FACA report also includes recommendations around food waste, renewable energy and forestry strategies.


Early in the Biden administration, the coalition proposed USDA create pilot projects for climate-smart agriculture, which encouraged USDA to spend $3.1 billion on more than 140 climate-smart pilot projects announced since last September. While more than $3 billion in funding was provided, groups collectively submitted more than $19 billion in project proposals for what is now called the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities.

FACA also championed that Congress pass the Growing Climate Solutions Act, a law passed in December that will lead to USDA setting standards for companies offering carbon credits to farmers as well as offering technical assistance to producers to qualify for those credits.


The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on March 1 examining conservation issues in the farm bill.

The House Agriculture Committee, how fully formed, set a Feb. 28 hearing looking at "uncertainty, inflation, regulations: challenges for American agriculture."

More details on FACA and its recommendations can be found here:….

Also see "GAO Suggests Tighter Crop Insurance, Farm Program Rules Tied to Climate Resilience" here:….

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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Chris Clayton