A total of 165 organizations and corporations calling on Congress to maintain the $28 billion proposed for conservation programs in the reconciliation package. One of the groups behind this effort, American Farmland Trust, says that this funding recognizes the critical role that our nation’s farmers and ranchers can play in combatting climate change and represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide producers with the tools they need to protect their land, increase resilience to extreme weather, sequester carbon, and reduce emissions — all while improving their soils and profitability.
The $28 billion in funding would provide a much-needed investment in the USDA’s conservation programs, which have proven consistently popular with farmers. In the case of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps many producers adopt regenerative practices like cover crops and no-till, for every one producer who receives funding, as many as three others are turned away due to insufficient funds.
The current conservation section would increase EQIP’s funding by $9 billion while also increasing Conservation Stewardship Program funding by $4 billion.
In November 2020, AFT called for a Cover Crop Initiative as one of five transition recommendations. According to AFT research, tripling cover crop acreage, when combined with no-till, would have the same climate impact as removing up to 260 million cars from roadways every single year. The reported conservation section includes a $5 billion Cover Crop Initiative which would bring us closer to that goal, by paying farmers $25 per acre per year to plant cover crops. The initiative would also offer a $5 per acre incentive to non-operating landowners — an innovative idea to increase adoption of regenerative practices on rented farmland. Because over half of cropland is rented in some regions, landowners are an essential partner to achieving national conservation goals. AFT’s Women for the Land Initiative’s research has shown that women non-operating landowners are an especially receptive, and often untapped, community for advancing regenerative practices.
AFT research has highlighted the climate benefits of farmland protection through avoided greenhouse gas emissions — an approach that California has taken with its Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program. Last year alone, agricultural land protection projects funded through the program were estimated to prevent the release of over 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent through avoided vehicle emissions and other factors. To this end, AFT especially encourages Congress to sustain the $1.5 billion proposed for ACEP as negotiations continue.
In addition to being a climate strategy, agricultural conservation easements are also an important way to create land access opportunities for the next generation of producers, particularly as the current generation of farmers reaches retirement.