Farmers are getting billions for climate change. Their votes still may not shift – NPR

by | Sep 17, 2022 | Climate Change

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Soybeans pour from a combine during harvest in a field in Rippey, Iowa, in 2019.

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If you ask Iowa farmer Robb Ewoldt about the federal dollars he’s received over the last few years to help make his land more sustainable, it’s clear he’s a big fan. “It works out really well in our operation,” says Ewoldt, who farms corn and soybeans on “just shy of 2,000 acres” near Davenport, Iowa. “We see tremendous benefits in conservation, water quality and carbon sequestration.” He’s been involved with the Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP, for about eight years now. The program aims to help farmers improve yields, increase the resilience of their fields to extreme weather and maintain and improve their conservation systems — such as no-till and cover crops.

On his farm in that time, “soil health [has] improved to a point where we see a yield advantage in our farming practices. …We can watch those yields go up year after year. That’s where the real benefit comes in,” he says. The government’s conservation programs are meant to bolster farmers’ response to climate change, as Ewoldt and others like him are forced to confront worsening droughts on the one hand, and unprecedented rainfall and flooding on the other. But even with billions more in federal assistance on the way, there is little sign the massive infusion of money from Democrats’ recently passed Inflation Reduction Act will reshape politics in the solidly Republican state of Iowa, nor move the dial for farmers in other rural areas where the GOP maintains a seemingly irreversible foothold.

Farmers will be getting billions more for conservation The CSP was enacted as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, but the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Democrats on a straight party-line vote, has added a whopping $20 billion to it and other conservation programs specifically aimed at helping farmers combat the effects of climate change. “This is a big chunk of funding relative to what they’ve had in recent years,” says Cathy Day, climate policy coordinator with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. She says in the past, the programs have been stretched so thin that “we generally have somewhere in the range of 3 to 4 times the farmers applying compared to those who actually get contracts.” The programs can have a huge impact for farmers and the environment, says Sara Nicholas, a policy strategist at the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Pasa Sustainable Agriculture. She cites a 2015 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council showing that “for every additional 1% of organic matter that gets into the soil, which is what a lot of these CSP programs’ practices are trying to do, those soils can capture an additional 20,000 gallons of rain per acre.” “If you think about a flood-prone state like Pennsylvania … it would just make all the difference if you can capture that much additional rainfall before it runs off the fields, into creeks, cascading down and tearing out bridges and culverts and infrastructure,” she sa …

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