The Inflation Reduction Act is a huge win for sustainable agriculture, but there is still more work to do. Fortunately this historic piece of legislation presents new opportunities for the 2023 Farm Bill.
On Tuesday, August 16, President Joe Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. While the Inflation Reduction Act may not have lived up to the original, more sweeping climate change mitigation aspirations of the now defunct Build Back Better Act, it is nonetheless a historic piece of legislation and ultimately fantastic news for sustainable farmers. It is the single largest federal investment in climate-smart agriculture to date, which will better support regenerative farming practices such as planting cover crops, reducing tillage, pasturing livestock, planting trees, and increasing biodiversity on farms.
The Inflation Reduction Act delivers $40 billion for advancing climate smart agriculture, including $20 billion in supplemental funding for existing popular conservation programs including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and farmland easement programs. Many farmers in Pennsylvania have been frustrated by the backlogs and waits involved in enrolling in these conservation programs—to date, just 20% of EQIP and 27% of CSP applications from farmers in Pennsylvania get funded. The Inflation Reduction Act will significantly expand these existing programs to be able to support more farmers.
Like any bill that gets signed into law, some of the details are not yet finalized.
The Inflation Reduction Act includes more than $5 billion for providing financial assistance to farmers who faced discrimination prior to 2021, and to the USDA to pay down loans held by farmers who face financial distress. Neither “discrimination” nor “distress” are defined in the law, and will have to be. These measures were intended to override the lawsuits and legal hurdles that froze an earlier attempt through the American Rescue Plan, which was passed into law in 2021, to award $4 billion in relief to Black farmers and other farmers of color.
It will remain to be seen whether the Inflation Reduction Act will live up to the American Rescue Plan’s attempt at guaranteed support for Black farmers, who have time and again suffered from broken government promises to rectify ongoing effects of historical discrimination.
Comments to lawmakers and USDA officials to ensure this funding goes to its intended recipients is something we all can work on through official comment channels and appeals to our Congressional representatives.
There is more work to do. The 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization offers the next big chance to make meaningful progress.
Additionally, while the Inflation Reduction Act provides vital funding for combating climate impacts and natural resource degradation through sustainable farming practices, there is more work to do to ensure that these funds are equitably distributed among farmers—including farmers of color as well as new and beginning farmers. Fortunately, much of this work can be done through the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill. (Learn more about Farm Bill programs here.)
With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, farmers and farming organizations have real momentum to bolster the next Farm Bill’s climate, conservation, and social and racial equity programs to complement the Inflation Reduction Act’s impacts.
Pasa is a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and we are working in collaboration with sustainable farming organizations across the country to advocate for a Farm Bill that benefits sustainable farms of all scales. Over the next year, we’ll be regularly updating you about and asking you to take action to support our efforts.
In fact, there’s something all farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates can do right now to tell Congress what you hope to see in the next federal Farm Bill.
The House Agriculture Committee is gathering feedback about how the current 2018 Farm Bill is (or isn’t) working, and how the next one can better serve farmers and food system professionals. Let them know how the 2023 Farm Bill can support a more equitable and sustainable future. (Be sure to check the “Title II, Conservation” box!)
If you’re not familiar with the Farm Bill and its components, don’t worry—we’ve put together a list of four key sustainable agriculture policy needs. You can simply share these messages when you submit your comments to the House Agriculture Committee, or you can use them as inspiration to craft your own message.