Guardrails for Climate, Protecting Our Future

House Farm Bill threatens to undermine historic investments.

VH Produce owner Vue Her, a Hmong farmer who grows several Asian specialty crops in Singer, near Fresno, California, walking through his 10-acre field at sunset on November 9, 2018. 

Vue has implemented many conservation improvements, including replacing an old tractor for a more efficient lower emission tractor and installation of seasonal high tunnels.
Credit: Lance Cheung/USDA

In 2021, Congress made historic progress in fighting climate change and setting the stage for a better future when it passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA provided $20 billion for agricultural conservation as a down payment to transform our agricultural economy to meet the moment. A key part of that investment included “guardrails” designed to ensure these funds are directed to the highest value climate-saving practices while also reaping conservation benefits like improved soil and water quality. The legislation directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to target IRA resources toward practices that deliver the biggest bang for the buck—to let science lead the way. But these “guardrails” are currently under threat.

This week, the House Agriculture Committee majority is expected to roll out a draft of its five-year Farm Bill Reauthorization that would dismantle these historic investments in climate-smart agriculture to instead fund “business as usual” practices that do too little to tackle the climate crisis and its impact on America’s farmers and rural communities.

Today, agriculture makes up 11 percent of the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint—and left unmanaged, agriculture could make up more than 30 percent of U.S. emissions by 2050. Farmers are among the first to feel the impacts of climate change, as they battle more challenging weather conditions. Certain practices like agroforestry have climate benefits but are only used on a small fraction of farmland. To meet the urgent challenge posed by climate change, it makes sense to invest in scaling them up. 

These investments are urgently needed. Historically, Farm Bill conservation programs have been oversubscribed, and demand for participation by farmers currently outstrips available funds. Instead of abandoning these investments, we must protect this critical funding that will help agriculture meet the moment and keep the focus on the challenge of the day. 

When President Roosevelt directed a once-in-a-generation investment into USDA conservation to address the crisis of the moment, the Dust Bowl focused resources on the underlying cause of that crisis by directing funding toward fighting soil erosion. Today’s moment is our climate. The IRA conservation funding is already working on the ground, farmers are using and benefiting from the programs with the guardrails as Congress intended when it passed the IRA.

The IRA conservation funding without the climate guardrails is business-as-usual. Our nation—and our world—will not be able to address this crisis unless we continue making long-term investments in climate-saving practices. As Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow has shown us there is a better way—one that can be achieved with bipartisanship. The Senate framework invests in the conservation title by directing the funding to agricultural conservation into “baseline” and keeps the essential climate guardrails in place. 

The IRA is working. We are decarbonizing our electric grid, transitioning to a clean economy, and investing in our rural communities. Farmers are using and benefiting from climate-focused IRA dollars. When the House Agriculture committee releases draft text, it must not cross red lines that make a Farm Bill unpassable; it must protect the climate guardrails; and it must continue the critical glide path the IRA set for the future of our agricultural and rural economies. 

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