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Hidden inside the Inflation Reduction Act: $20 billion in additional funds that will strengthen our busiest American industries by decreasing food and fuel prices

Biden’s inflation bill would help reduce the impact of farming on the environment.

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Hunting, suburban sprawl, or invasive species are not the environmental threats that are most significant individually. It’s agriculture.

Roughly 40% of the country is covered by farms, which include large fields of cattle, corn, and soybeans in place of various ecosystems. Additionally, around 11% of US greenhouse gas emissions are related to agriculture.

Some of those effects may be lessened with the aid of the Inflation Reduction Act.

The plan, which President Biden is expected to sign into law this week, includes roughly $20 billion to make farms more ecologically friendly along with additional attention-grabbing investments in clean energy and health care. The payments are intended to aid farmers in increasing habitat for pollinators like bees, storing more carbon in the soil, and strengthening agricultural operations against extreme weather.

Despite only making up a small portion of the $437 billion total and going primarily to existing government programs, funding for farmers is still a significant amount, according to experts. The highest investment since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, $20 billion is still a significant sum, according to Karen Perry Stillerman, deputy director at the research organization Union of Concerned Scientists, in a recent blog post. She wrote, “It’s $20 billion more than we had two weeks ago.”

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Additionally, this investment is crucial right now. Due to some droughts and flash floods becoming more regular and severe due to climate change, crops are at risk. Numerous initiatives supported by the IRA aim to reduce more than just carbon emissions; they may also improve the resilience of our food system. That would ultimately be to our mutual benefit.

Impact of the bill on agriculture

The US Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program will get the largest financial contribution, or around $8.5 billion. It provides funding for initiatives that reduce emissions on farmland or rehabilitate the ecology.

Frequently, farmers buy and cultivate cover crops with the money. These are plants that are rooted in fields that may otherwise be fallow in order to enhance the soil’s health and stop erosion, such as clover, radishes, or rye. The notion is that something is always “covering” the ground.

According to Rob Myers, director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at the University of Missouri, cover crops also possess a variety of other superpowers. For instance, they can keep soil moisture in during a drought while facilitating easier groundwater penetration after a flood.

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These plants also serve as a habitat for significant animals that live above and below the ground, including spiders, beetles, and fungi; many of which carry out functions such as pest management. More plants typically equate to more animals.

Myers added that although only a small percentage of farmers presently employ cover crops, initiatives like EQIP are increasing its use. According to him, planting them can be expensive, and it takes them around three years to begin paying off (by, for instance, lowering the quantity of fertilizer a farmer has purchase, for example). He claimed that this is why government investment is so crucial.

The measure also funds three other crucial programs.

The Conservation Stewardship Program, a separate USDA effort, will receive more than $3 billion from the IRA (CSP). Cathy Day, climate policy coordinator at a non-profit organization called the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said that CSP is similar to EQIP in that it pays farmers to make their lands more sustainable, but that it typically provides funding over a longer period of time and for a larger suite of conservation-related projects.

What does that look like in reality? According to Day, a farmer could use CSP to change a monoculture industrial farm into something that resembles a more natural landscape. The crops grown on such a farm might include fruiting trees and plants that improve the soil, requiring less fertilizer and insecticide. In any case, that is the best-case scenario.

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The Regional Conservation Partnership Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program are two other initiatives with funding in the act that are also worth learning about.

Similar to the programs mentioned above, the regional partnership program, which will receive $4.95 billion, depends on partners, such as environmental charities, to help make farms more sustainable. A further $1.4 billion will go into the program for easements. It guarantees that towns, roads, and other construction projects won’t take the place of agriculture.

Is this actually better for the environment?

As a part of Biden’s larger climate agenda, these programs are intentionally intended to aid in the battle against climate change. And a few of them very likely will. As long as farmers don’t dig up the roots of cover crops, for instance, they can capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, according to Day.

However, it’s difficult to predict whether $20 billion in funding will, overall, make a dent in emissions related to agriculture. The production of meat and dairy products, which account for the majority of the agricultural sector’s carbon emissions, won’t be significantly altered by the measure, according to Kenny Torrella of Vox.

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According to Day, historically, nearly half of EQIP funding has been allocated to livestock farms, particularly confined animal feeding facilities. Although IRA funding could help those farms reduce emissions to some extent, she added, it would also support a polluting sector. Day claimed that the practice “is naturally promoting systems that are highly environmentally harmful.”

A number of the bill’s provisions also allocate funds for biofuels, which some experts have criticized for accelerating environmental degradation and offering nothing in the way of emission reductions. Surprisingly, the US uses nearly a third of the corn farmed there to produce ethanol, the majority of which is planted in enormous, mainly lifeless monocultures.

In the end, reducing emissions from agriculture will necessitate more substantial changes to our food system as well as significant expenditures on plant-based meats and other low-carbon substitutes. But in the meanwhile, this bill offers a chance to restore some farmland – to put back some of the natural landscape features that give it more resilience.

The typical person could believe that what farmers are doing has no bearing on them, according to Myers. But it’s crucial because everyone needs a reliable source of food.

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