AFT Joins 164 Other Organizations in Calling for Congress to Maintain $28 Billion for Conservation in Reconciliation Bill
AFT is proud to stand alongside 164 other organizations and corporations in calling for Congress to maintain the $28 billion proposed for conservation programs in the reconciliation package. 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 USDA conservation programs, which have proven consistently popular with farmers. In the case of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which helps many producers adopt regenerative practices like cover crops and no-till, for every one producer that 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 (CSP) 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.
We also appreciate the proposal’s recognition of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), including its Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) subprogram, as essential to any meaningful climate strategy. AFT’s Farms Under Threat research revealed that from 2001–2016, 11 million acres of agricultural land in the U.S. were paved over or converted to uses that threaten the future of agriculture. Lost with these acres is not only a low-emission land use when compared to developed land, but also a critical carbon sink. Because eased lands will remain in agricultural use, they represent some of our best opportunities for ensuring that the carbon sequestered through regenerative practices remains in the soil.
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.
Finally, we welcome the proposed additional support for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). AFT has engaged producers and partners in several RCPP projects across the nation and believes the additional focus on Alternative Funding Arrangements will help to ensure that the program enables wider practice adoption, while also serving as a proving ground for innovative conservation approaches. RCPP can also be used for farmland protection and for advancing regenerative practices on eased lands.
We thank Chairwoman Stabenow, Chairman Scott, and the House and Senate Agriculture Committee Members for their leadership throughout this process. With devastating storms, droughts, floods, and fires already impacting production, our nation’s farmers and ranchers continue to find themselves on the front lines of climate change. The proposed $28 billion in conservation funding is key to helping lead our nation in meeting the greatest challenge of the 21st century. We encourage Congress to maintain this funding as negotiations continue.