Lawmakers are looking for ways to add sustainability incentives to the 2023 Farm Bill
Traditional crop insurance programs have always been the foundation of the Farm Bill, but now lawmakers and USDA are considering how to add conservation.
Undersecretary Robert Bonnie said they are reviewing their programs to see how they can add sustainability incentives.
“One of the things that was attractive about the pace that split application nitrogen is brought forward with support from corn growers. With others, I think we look for opportunities to create those new products that will that will create incentives whether for sustainability climate or otherwise. I think you know, in all those cases, this has to work for agriculture, we have to develop tools that work for agriculture that folks can embed into their existing operations.”
Bonnie spent a large part of the hearing discussing the administration’s newly announced ‘partnerships for climate-smart commodities.’
Ranking member Glenn Thompson questioned USDA’s authority to use $1 Billion from the Commodity Credit Corporation.
“I’m somewhat confused to learn the NRCS was the agency issuing the notice of funding availability. Seems like the department is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole to avail yourselves of the of the CCC authorities and funds. And frankly, to me this looks like a conservation program dressed up as a marketing program. Now, as I continue to question if USDA has authority to do this, absent congressional action, I’m also very concerned that this money will not directly benefit producers.”
Subcommittee Chair Cheri Bustos noted the previous administration also used the CCC to pay out $23 Billion to offset retaliatory tariffs through the Market Facilitation Program. She also gave Bonnie time to explain why USDA has authority to use CCC.
“This is a commodity program, it is specifically linked to commodity production. And that is important. And while it does sit in NRCS will draw on expertise from across the department, the office, the chief economist, FSA and others as we as we move forward on this, and welcome a conversation with everybody. We’ve tried to listen agriculture as much as we can. We welcome the conversation going forward.”
He said one of the goals will be to establish what is needed for carbon sequestration research and measurement, but more staff will be needed to help farmers with new technology.
“It’s critically important as you all think about the 23 Farm Bill, you know, thinking about things like technical assistance for NRCS the ability for us to have the boots on the ground to provide sound technical assistance. To do the outreach. We need to small producers medium sized producers historically underserved. Another important issue here so yes, there’s a challenge and we’re moving to hire as quickly as we can.”
Several members expressed concerns about current staffing levels at local offices. Bonnie said this week, USDA moved 804 county offices from 25% staffed to 50% staffed in response to improving COVID numbers.