Photo by Raphael Cruz
When most people hear “farm bill” they think of things like corn subsidies and food programs. But the farm bill is a gigantic, sprawling funding package that supports a wide variety of programs, including major investments in clean energy.
Some key programs funded by the farm bill, however, are now under serious threat because some conservatives have made cutting climate programs a priority — even pieces in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was our nation’s first step toward putting real dollars to slow the climate crisis.
That’s why we need Michigan’s congressional delegation, and in particular Sen. Debbie Stabenow, as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, to defend the climate provisions of the farm bill until it becomes law.
As a top priority, Michigan’s congressional representatives must help to ensure that the farm bill protects $19.5 billion in Climate Smart Agriculture funding. These vital funds will compensate farmers for implementing conservation practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their agricultural operations. Agriculture is a major source of carbon emissions, yet also offers potential to store vast amounts of carbon in soil, so the potential is real for hopeful and valuable climate progress in that sector.
One critical funding mechanism to spur the transition to clean energy and support rural farmers is called the REAP Act (Rural Energy for America Program), which helps eligible participants purchase renewable energy or make energy-efficiency improvements to reduce their carbon footprint. Through the IRA, more than $2 billion has been approved for REAP grant recipients through 2031.
These vitally important funds can be used to support wind and solar infrastructure, retrofits like high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, high-efficiency lighting and cooling and refrigeration, energy-efficient doors and windows and better insulation. These measures can help farmers save or even earn money. But the funding could be cut through legislative maneuvering during the farm bill.
Another important funding priority to protect is the Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act, which authorized $15 million in annual funding for agrivoltaics research.
Agrivoltaics researchers study whether renewable energy infrastructure and various livestock or crops can co-exist on the same land. Agrivoltaics would enable farmers to use lands for crops or grazing, while also cashing a check for energy production at the same time.
At its heart, the farm bill provides a transformational opportunity to shift power and resources away from harmful practices and toward those that promote ecosystem and human health.
Currently, however, there is strong funding support for large-scale industrialized agriculture systems, including practices such as controlled animal feeding operations (CAFOs), monocropping, tillage and those that rely heavily on chemical inputs — all of which contribute to climate change, damage our Great Lakes environment and threaten our regional blue economy.
The goal must be to redirect funding and support toward more sustainable alternatives. We have a golden opportunity to get this right, but the congressional clock is ticking fast. Reach out to your senators today and encourage them to prioritize strong climate action in the farm bill and beyond.
Ashley Rudzinski is