Bipartisan Farm Bill Extension Signals Hope for 2024
The one-year Farm Bill extension ensures short-term continuity, and we look forward to a full 2024 Farm Bill that protects people and the environment
The recent bipartisan extension of the Farm Bill represents a significant achievement, providing stability and continued support for essential programs such as Organic Certification Cost-Share and scholarships for students at Historically Black Land-Grant Universities. The one-year extension not only follows the historically bipartisan spirit of the Farm Bill but also sets an optimistic tone for comprehensive negotiations in the new year. We’re hopeful that Congress will build on this progress and pass a full five-year Farm Bill in the coming months to give farmers, families, and rural communities the certainty and support they need to maintain a livelihood and put food on the table.
All four leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have committed to do just that. In a joint statement issued after passage of the extension, Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Boozman, Chairman Thompson, and Ranking Member Scott said:
“As negotiations on funding the government progress, we were able to come together to avoid a lapse in funding for critical agricultural programs and provide certainty to producers. This extension is in no way a substitute for passing a 5-year Farm Bill and we remain committed to working together to get it done next year.”
We all have a role to play in shaping the new Farm Bill, and as we venture into 2024, NRDC renews our own commitment to advocate for a Farm Bill that is good for people and the planet. In an op-ed published in The Hill, NRDC’s President Manish Bapna and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union’s International President Marc Perrone, called on Congress to “swiftly pass a farm bill that will ensure we all have sufficient and healthy food, a safe environment, and protections for the workers who put food on our tables.” Farmers, consumers, and workers across the country will be looking to Congress to promptly deliver support to rural America, continue our transition to a clean energy economy, advance food security, protect workers, and fight climate change.
The transformational investments in agriculture and rural America that Congress passed and enacted into law last year, under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), remain central to these goals. As the single largest investment in agricultural conservation and rural electricity since the dust bowl, the IRA is already delivering critical support to help farmers and rural communities confront the climate crisis and build an economy that serves everyone, including working families.
Some in Congress have proposed changes that would turn the Farm Bill process into a partisan fight with cuts to key conservation, clean energy, and equity programs, which would undermine the next generation of innovation, the fight against climate change, and the long-term stability of our food system. Unfortunately, this isn't a new tactic. The House already attempted to claw back IRA funding for rural energy programs in the Fiscal Year 2024 Agriculture funding bill; these programs were designed to lower energy costs for rural families and small businesses while strengthening their communities’ energy systems. Attacks on IRA funding in the Farm Bill are a similar attempt to steal historic funding from rural Americans.
Transformational Climate Investments Reinvigorate Rural America
Fortunately, climate leaders in the House like Congresswomen Pingree, Budzinski, and Caraveo are standing strong. In October, every rank-and-file Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee sent a clear message to House leadership: keep the IRA conservation funds dedicated to their intended purpose. Last month, they reiterated the same message for the IRA’s clean energy funding.
Both letters highlight the high demand for conservation and rural energy funding, as farmers flock to Farm Bill programs in record numbers.
Indeed, when USDA announced the availability of $600 million of IRA funding for three key conservation programs in Fiscal Year 2023, the agency received over $2.9 billion in proposals. The demand stretches across the country: in California, 140 applications totaling $9.27 million were funded; Iowa had 195 applications totaling $18.5 million; and even in a less populous states like Mississippi, 225 applications were funded for a total of $15.54 million. Farmers from every corner of the country are using IRA funding to protect the land for their children and to incorporate soil saving practices that will help America thrive.
Likewise, there’s a great deal of energy surrounding USDA rural energy programs funded by the IRA. Demand exceeds the funding available for USDA’s Empowering Rural America (New ERA) program, which provides grants and loans for rural electric cooperatives to build clean energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements that would boost the long-term resiliency, reliability, and affordability of rural electric systems, help families save money on utility bills, and expand rural opportunities in the clean energy economy.
These much-needed investments are overdue for the 42 million people and 21 million schools, businesses, homes and farms powered by the more than 900 nonprofit rural electric cooperatives across 47 states, including some of the poorest areas of the country (92% of persistent-poverty counties). All in all, New ERA has the potential to provide 90,000 jobs and nearly $50 billion of projected economic development.
Rural electric cooperatives have taken notice. The $9.7 billion voluntary grant and loan program received more than $43 billion in total applications from cooperatives in nearly every state, with cooperatives in Kentucky ($4.2B), North Dakota ($3.3B), and Texas ($2.2B) requesting the most funding. In total, demand exceeded available resources by nearly 5 to 1. The energy surrounding New ERA is building and rural electric cooperatives are showing that rural America will not be left behind in the transition to clean energy.
Farm Bill Extension Ends 2023 on Hopeful Note
In negotiating the one-year Farm Bill extension, our Agriculture Committee leaders demonstrated the type of bipartisanship that we need throughout our government, with a broad agreement that extended the safety net and didn’t undermine worker, environmental, or consumer protections. We urge Congress to keep it up and deliver a transformational Farm Bill in 2024 with wins for everyone.