By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy

On the Climate Column, we have highlighted a number of climate-smart production and conservation practices for which farmers may receive technical and financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Congress authorizes NRCS to disperse this assistance to farmers through the farm bill, the most comprehensive piece of food and farm legislation in the United States.

Every five years, the farm bill expires and must be updated and renewed. The current farm bill, passed in 2014, will expire this September. Earlier this week, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway released the committee’s draft of the 2018 Farm Bill. This text serves as a starting point for House Agriculture Committee negotiations to determine the text that will be offered to the entire House of Representatives for that chamber’s consideration. Chairman Conaway’s farm bill proposal would change the way NRCS assists farmers with the implementation of conservation practices. It would also change the amount of assistance NRCS is authorized to offer.

Currently, NRCS offers assistance to farmers to implement climate-smart practices on land currently in production through two programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). EQIP is a cost-share program; participants receive a payment to cover part of the cost of implementing a practice that achieves a conservation benefit. CSP is an incentive program; participants earn money from NRCS for achieving conservation benefits and earn more money for more benefit attained. The draft House proposal would eliminate CSP as an independent program, instead incorporating it into EQIP. The bill would also reduce the total amount of money authorized for working lands conservation assistance by approximately $5 billion over the next decade.

Farmers can do a lot to mitigate climate change and make the food system more climate-resilient, but meaningful impact will require greater adoption of climate-smart practices. NRCS has been an important partner promoting such practices to date. If that agency’s ability to assist farmers in implementing such practices is reduced, how else can we accelerate adoption of climate-smart practices? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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