Billions of ‘climate-smart’ USDA funding goes to climate-negative farming: Report

Billions of ‘climate-smart’ USDA funding goes to climate-negative farming: Report

Subsidies from USDA’s largest conservation fund are misused, in keeping with the Environmental Working Group.

By Leah Garden

March 11, 2024

A graphic of different fruits

The U.S. Division of Agriculture’s (USDA) “climate-smart” applications are sometimes climate-neutral, and in some circumstances climate-negative, in keeping with a brand new report.

Of $5.5 billion despatched to farmers through certainly one of USDA’s most important environmental applications between 2017 and 2022, solely $1.7 billion — 31 % — funded practices on the department’s official climate-smart list, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Of the highest 10 practices funded by that program in 2023, solely two have been on the climate-smart checklist, the non-profit group stated.

“A lot of the [remaining] $3.8 billion in funding went to structural practices like fencing, different livestock practices and irrigation practices,” stated Anne Schechinger, EWG’s Midwest director.

USDA’s Environmental High quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is among the division’s largest conservation subsidy applications. It gives funding for a variety of actions on a “climate-smart” list, together with cowl crops that shield soil and enhance its fertility, no-till soil routines and wetland restoration. EQIP is vital as a result of 10.6 percent of the US’s total greenhouse emissions in 2023 got here from agriculture, in keeping with USDA.

However in 2023 and 2024, 14 “provisional” practices have been added to the climate-smart checklist. “Provisional practices are added to the checklist ‘provisionally’ as a result of USDA doesn’t have any knowledge/quantification to indicate that they really scale back emissions,” stated Schechinger. 

A type of practices is waste storage, particularly the development of manure lagoons. Waste accounts for 11 percent of U.S. agricultural emissions, and manure lagoons launch giant quantities of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse fuel. Manure additionally typically pollutes streams, ingesting water and groundwater.

This isn’t the primary time EQIP has come below hearth. “EQIP specifically pays for agricultural practices that aren’t environmentally helpful or in some circumstances actively make the setting worse,” according to a report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy published in 2022.

Ten practices funded by EQIP have been “industrial” or “factory-farm pleasant,” in keeping with that report, which additionally cited waste storage amenities as an issue.

A spokesperson for USDA referred to as EWG’s analysis “basically flawed.” 

“Sadly, EWG didn’t have in mind the rigorous, science-based methodology utilized by USDA to find out eligible practices, not the extent of specificity required in the course of the implementation course of to make sure the practices’ climate-smart advantages are being maximized,” USDA spokesperson Allan Rodriguez informed GreenBiz.

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Leah Garden

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