Omnibus Includes Ag Disaster Money and USDA Climate Program

Included in the omnibus spending bill negotiated by Congress provides disaster funds for crop losses in 2022. Also included is language for the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would create a…

Omnibus Includes Ag Disaster Money and USDA Climate Program

The program encourages lowering fertilizer emissions and reducing emissions from nutrient use. It would also encourage reforestation, forest management, including improving harvest practices and thinning diseased trees, preventing the conversion of forests, grasslands, and wetlands. Other aspects that could qualify include restoring wetlands or grasslands.

Also included are current farm practices tied to USDA's conservation programs. Earlier this year, the Inflation Reduction Act provided $19.5 billion for conservation programs specifically tied to reducing emissions and sequestering carbon. USDA also now has $3.1 billion in outstanding grants for more than 140 different pilot projects around the country meant to find ways to reduce agricultural emissions under the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities.

Within a year, USDA would be required to create a website with a registration list for carbon credit programs, including the regions where they provide services, and whether the carbon credit program provides technical assistance to producers or verifies protocols. USDA would then oversee the integrity of companies or carbon registries that are involved in USDA's program. A carbon or emission-reduction registry can be removed for failing to maintain standards.

The program will also have a way to submit information for fraudulent claims. Businesses, non-profits and government agencies may provide technical assistance for land-management practices that prevent, reduce or mitigate greenhouse emissions. A third-party verifier confirmed the practices or protocols for voluntary carbon-credit markets.

Also included in the funding bill is the "SUSTAINS" Act, or Sustainability Targets in Agriculture to Incentivize Natural Solutions Act, by Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., the incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. That bill expands USDA's authority to allow non-federal funds for certain conservation programs that address climate change, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat improvement and protection of drinking water sources.

The bill language for a carbon program drew immediate praise from the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. "I applaud the inclusion of both the Growing Climate Solutions Act and the SUSTAINS Act in the omnibus appropriations bill under consideration by Congress," said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of NCFC. Conner thanked Thompson as well as Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for getting these bills included in this end-of-year package.

"This action affirms Congress's support for programs and projects to promote climate-smart agricultural practices that are voluntary, science-based, and incentive-focused," Conner said. NO H-2A REFORM Still, the funding bill will not take up any agricultural immigration reforms pushed by NCFC and nearly 250 farm groups that had backed the effort to change the H-2A guest worker program, and potentially legalize hundreds of thousands of farmer workers now in the country illegally. Bennet, on the Senate floor Monday evening, stressed his bill would save farmers $23 billion in labor costs over the next decade and ensure there are enough workers to meet the demands of the food system.

"We should accept rising food prices for families just because this Congress can't reform an antiquated H-2A program," Bennet said. AG SPENDING IN BILL Rice producers would receive a one-time payment with funding of $250 million following higher fertilizer prices and lack of boost in commodity prices that affected rice growers more than other commodities. Sen.

John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, cited a study showing two-thirds of rice farmers would lose money with their 2022 crops. The bill also includes up to $100 million for USDA to make payments to cotton merchandisers that faced financial losses because of supply chain problems during the pandemic. Following complaints about the lack of staff at local Farm Service Agency offices, the bill provides $15 million to hire new employees, yet up to 50% of the funding can be tied to technology to deliver farm programs as well.

The Rural Electric Program would receive $4.3 billion guaranteed underwriting loans, of which up to $2 billion will be used for upgrading fossil-fuel electric power plans that utilize carbon subsurface utilization and storage systems. Rural broadband programs would receive $455 million, including $348 million for the ReConnect program through USDA. For farm ownership loans, USDA receives authority for up to $3.5 billion in guaranteed farm ownership loans and $3.1 billion in direct farm ownership loans.

FSA would have another $2.19 billion in guaranteed operating loans as well as $1.64 billion in direct operating loans. USDA also would have authority for up to $4 billion in emergency loans. For food aid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will receive $153 billion, a record funding level for the program.

The bill bumps up benefit levels for recipients. OTHER PROGRAMS Boozman highlighted the bill also reauthorized the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) at EPA and increased the registration and maintenance feeds "to support a more predictable regulatory process," and create additional improvements in the program. The bill also extends the deadline for EPA to complete registration review decisions for all pesticide products registered as of Oct.

1, 2007. Boozman noted "EPA is facing a significant backlog of pesticide registrations due to a variety of factors over the past several years, which raises potential implications for continued access to numerous crop protection tools. The agency will be allowed to continue its registration review work through Oct.

1, 2026, as a result of this extension." Boozman noted the bill also will extend the Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) for packers through Sept. 30, 2023. Chris Clayton can be reached at EMAIL Follow him on Twitter URL