Climate bill would expand USDA stewardship programs

The USDA would double the size of the Conservation Reserve, the government’s largest land-idling program, as part of supporting land stewardship on 100 million acres of farmland under companion bills filed in the House and Senate on Monday. Democrats Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the sponsors, compared the legislation to New Deal programs to help farmers and combat soil loss during the Dust Bowl.

“The Climate Stewardship Act is a critical investment to seriously engage farmers, ranchers, and rural communities as part of the solution to climate change,” said Booker, who filed a version of the bill in 2019. Spanberger, who chairs the House Agriculture subcommittee on conservation, said she was “committed to finding new ways to both protect the health of our soil and benefit farmers’ bottom lines.”

Under the legislation, the Conservation Reserve, now 20.8 million acres, would remove up to 40 million acres of fragile farmland from production. Funding would triple for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and contracts for climate-smart practices “would result in more than 100 million acres engaging in new stewardship practices.” Funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program, a “working lands” program that helps farmers make soil and water conservation part of their daily operations, would expand tenfold.

The Rural Energy for America Program, which offers grants and loan guarantees to farmers and local businesses for energy efficiency and renewable energy, would expand to $3 billion a year, from the current $50 million.

A reforestation section of the bill calls for planting 1.6 billion trees by 2030, including 100 million trees in urban neighborhoods.

A section by section summary of the bill is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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Agronomy Tip: Combine yield map and soil compaction data

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