Build Back Better Deep Dive: Climate-Related Agriculture Provisions Steal the Show
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Overview: 

On October 28, House Democrats unveiled a new draft of H.R. 5376, the Build Back Better Act. The Build Back Better Act is the latest Democratic-led attempt at a filibuster-proof reconciliation package to invest trillions in domestic and social safety net programs. You can read the entirety of the bill here or a section-by-section summary here. This alert will take a closer look at the agriculture portion of the new draft. 

Conservation is Key 

The biggest difference between the initial draft and the updated draft of the Build Back Better bill is the focus on climate-smart agriculture provisions. The second draft includes more than $90 billion for climate-smart agriculture provisions, including an increase in cover crop payments and major increases in spending for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, and other Farm Bill conservation programs.  

Cover Crops: The bill would provide payments to producers who plant cover crops in their fields for soil health and to help address climate change. The payments would be $25/acre for up to 1,000 acres per producer. Landowners who lease ground to farmers would also be eligible to receive payments of $5/acre as well. 

Conservation: The bill provides billions in funding for four existing Farm Bill conservation programs to increase soil carbon, reduce nitrogen loss, or reduce or capture greenhouse gases. 

  1. $9.0 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP);  
  2. $4.1 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP); 
  3. $1.7 billion for USDA conservation easements (ACEP); and
  4. $7.5 billion the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) 

Technical assistance at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service would also see an influx of $850 million to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners implement climate-smart practices on their operations. 

Secretary Vilsack touted the “significant investments” in climate-smart agriculture provisions included in the new draft in a statement made yesterday. Vilsack noted, “Agriculture can lead the way in the fight on climate with climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices that sequester carbon, reduce emissions and create new and better market opportunities for producers.” 

Short-Changed 

The first version of the Build Back Better Act included over $7.75 billion in strategic investments in agricultural research. However, in order to halve the size of the original bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, lawmakers cut agricultural research investments down to $2 billion. The new allocations are: 

  • $615 million for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – down from $1 billion 
  • $210 million for Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) – down from $540 million 
  • $210 million for Agriculture Advanced Research & Development Authority (AGARDA) – down from $380 million 
  • $120 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research Education program (SARE) – down from $500 billion 
  • $60 million for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) – down from $200 million 
  • $5 million for the urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural production research, education, and extension initiative – down from $65 million 
  • $60 million for the specialty crop research and extension initiative – down from $200 million 

Additional Noteworthy Provisions 

Some other big-ticket items in the agricultural provisions of the Build Back Better Act include: 

  • $9.7 billion in loans for rural electric cooperatives for grants and loans for electric co-ops to purchase renewable energy or renewable energy systems, deploy renewable energy systems, or make energy efficiency improvements 
  • $1.965 billion for the Renewable Energy for America Program, $294.75 million of which is reserved for financial assistance for underutilized renewable energy technologies and program technical assistance 
  • $200 million for the Rural Energy Savings Program  
  • $2.88 billion for electric loans toward renewable energy 
  • $960 million for biofuel infrastructure grants 
  • $200 million for farm workers and food worker relief through a grant program USDA announced earlier this year 

What’s next:   More debate and revisions are ahead, as Democratic progressives and moderates face off over the bill’s contents. Losing just a few votes from either wing of the party will derail the whole thing, forcing a near-impossible balancing act from leadership. The timing for a future vote on the new package is unclear. For the latest, stay tuned to the MBS team. 

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