Saturday, July 20, 2024

New Farm Bill Could Provide Climate-smart Investments to Virginia Farmers

Democrats and Republicans sent a letter to the House Agriculture chair urging him not to increase crop subsidies by diverting conservation funding. (Adobe Stock)

WASHINGTON — The long-delayed Farm Bill could benefit Virginia farmers by renewing funding for climate-smart investments, but it’s been held up for months in Congress.

Some lawmakers want this bill to expand funding for such programs as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, which gives financial and technical help to farmers and ranchers to make conservation a priority. About $250 million was allocated for the program, but more than 9,000 applications were submitted, bringing it to $475 million.

Gabrielle Walton, federal campaign associate with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said these programs’ popularity proves their necessity.

“This money allows them not only to practice more efficiently — and to preserve the environment that they love so much and they’re so attached to — but it also saves them money that they can devote to other concerns,” she said, “and provides them stability for their pocketbooks going forward.”

One issue with the new Farm Bill is a proposed increase in so-called “reference pricing,” which critics have said only benefits large farming operations and would come at the expense of more widely used social and climate-smart programs.

Walton said she thinks political divisiveness and competing priorities have held up the new Farm Bill.

The previous Farm Bill was extended to this September, but lawmakers have said they aim to have a bill ready by Memorial Day. Along with climate-smart investments, the Farm Bill also funds social safety-net programs.

Geoff Horsfield, a policy director at the Environmental Working Group, said people don’t always know how helpful nutrition programs are to families.

“There’s a misconception that things like SNAP only benefit urban communities,” he said, “and we just know that that’s not true — that folks in all counties rely on nutrition assistance programs, some of these social programs, to be able to make ends meet.”

SNAP and other nutrition programs received 75% of funding in the 2018 Farm Bill. More than 876,000 Virginians use SNAP and EBT benefits, since food insecurity has been a longstanding issue in the state.

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