Climate, Science, Fiscal Groups Warn Congress Against Raiding Farm Conservation Funds

Published Feb 8, 2024

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Today, a group of nearly 30 organizations focused on the environment, fiscal responsibility, and agricultural sustainability submitted a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agriculture committees. Led by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Taxpayers for Common Sense, the groups urge that nearly $20 billion in conservation investments included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) not be transferred to farm subsidy programs in the next food and farm bill.

“Instead of expanding federal spending on farm subsidies and highly subsidized crop insurance, Congress has an opportunity in the next farm bill to promote resilience and save taxpayer dollars,” said Joshua Sewell, Director of Research and Policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Congress must prioritize fiscal responsibility by focusing federal spending on programs that deliver benefits for both farmers and taxpayers - instead of expanding unnecessary farm subsidies.”

Some members of Congress have proposed poaching some IRA conservation funds to increase crop insurance payments and subsidies for commodity crops like corn and soy. However, according to UCS polling, an overwhelming majority of voters, 82%, support investing in programs that help U.S. farmers proactively adapt and protect their land and crops against losses from flooding and drought, rather than paying them after the fact. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government spent a record $16.3 billion on crop insurance programs last year due to climate change and other disasters.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates 2023 net farm income at $151.1 billion. An update from the USDA ERS on farm income, due to be released tomorrow, is expected to project that farmers will fare well again this year – importantly, without an expansion in federal farm subsidies.

“The Inflation Reduction Act makes critical investments in conservation, providing an opportunity to scale up in-demand programs and meet the needs of many additional farmers who are currently unable to receive funding to implement smart conservation practices on their lands,” said Melissa Kaplan, senior manager of government affairs at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It is essential that Congress maintains this dedicated funding for conservation in the next food and farm bill.”

The IRA increases funding for proven USDA programs that limit emissions of heat-trapping methane gas from livestock, improve soil health and reduce the use of chemical fertilizer, and provide farmers and ranchers with the tools to expand and implement new conservation practices. These programs have proved effective and popular among farmers but are chronically underfunded and oversubscribed. For example, UCS research shows that for every dollar invested the Conservation Stewardship Program delivers $4 in benefits, including cleaner water and less money spent on fertilizer. But over the past decade more than half of the applicants for such programs were turned away for lack of funding.