“If we want to ensure that these practices and others like them are more widely adopted, we must ensure that they are voluntary, that they maintain the profitability of the farm and that [USDA] is equipped at the staff level to help farmers achieve them,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (RS.D.), a Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, who pointed out that many South Dakota farmers are already using regeneration methods to improve their soil.
To be regenerative, a farm can undertake a number of practices to sequester carbon and restore soil health. The most popular is the cover crop, planting an alternative crop like a legume or leafy green between planting the main crop, like corn or soybeans. This helps to reduce erosion and also naturally restores plant building blocks, such as carbon or nitrogen, that are extracted from the soil after intensive farming by removing them from the air as part of the plant’s natural respiration cycle. the plant. They can also help make the soil more spongy, increasing water penetration and irrigation.
Other practices include avoiding tillage, which can push nutrients out of the soil; rotation and incorporation of livestock into growing operations; and leaving unplanted “buffer” strips between cultivated fields.
Democrats are broadly aligned with Regenerate America, the main coalition pushing lawmakers to expand regenerative agriculture in the Farm Bill. They want Congress to order the USDA to deploy more resources to improve soil health in existing conservation programs and augment some of these oversubscribed programs with nearly $5 billion in additional funding. Much of this is already contained in the Agricultural Resilience Acta bill introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), which proponents want to use as a guide for what to include in the next farm bill.
Democrats got $20 billion for government programs Inflation Reduction Act, their climate package and fiscal reconciliation. A House Republican aide with knowledge of the plans said it will likely influence base funding for the farm bill and Republicans may look for ways to redirect funds.
Supporters of the funding also want a comprehensive soil health education platform available to farmers and USDA technical service providers, which help farmers make decisions when enrolling in conservation programs.
Republicans are cautiously on board with the idea of helping farmers save money while improving their soil, within limits.
representing GT Thompson (R-Pa.), who is expected to take the House Agriculture Committee gavel next year, said he “has leaned into the climate discussion.” But at a recent hearing, he said he would “not make us suddenly incorporate buzzwords like regenerative agriculture into the farm bill or put too much emphasis on climate in the conservation headline or research, while undermining the other long-standing environmental benefits these programs provide”.
Other lawmakers don’t want the farm bill to turn regenerative farming practices into a mandate for farmers that benefits some but not all.
representing Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the House Agriculture Conservation and Forestry subcommittee, said it was “prudent to push hard toward this regenerative agriculture terminology because agriculture tends to know what it does over time anyway…they do what works pretty well.
“If a guy finds out he could do it and use less fertilizer, that’s great for him,” LaMalfa said. But LaMalfa, a rice farmer, warned that not all operations, including his own, can use regenerative practices.
However, he says, he is still “definitely” open to strengthening existing USDA conservation programs as long as they remain voluntary.
In the Senate, Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, supports expanding regenerative practices — but his office has strayed from the overwhelming endorsement of it by name.
“One person’s definition of regenerative agriculture may be different than another’s, but Ranking Member Boozman is in favor of making Farm Bill-funded conservation programs work better for growers in our country. while helping them address their unique resource concerns, whether it be soil health, erosion, water quality, water quantity, and more,” a his spokesman said in a statement. “What he doesn’t want is what we saw in the Cut Inflation Act where Congress is funding a specific set of resource issues focused on the climate at the expense of other resource issues like the amount of water producers across the country are facing as drought continues to spread.”
Republicans might be swayed by the argument that regenerative agriculture is better for business. “We were saving $1 million a year in input costs and increasing yield year over year for corn and [soy]beans,” said Rick Clark, an Indiana farmer who switched to regenerative agriculture several years ago and testified about its benefits at a recent House Agriculture Committee hearing.
Democrats, for their part, will likely continue to push the issue.
representing David Scott (D-Ga.), who will likely continue as the top Democrat on the House Agriculture panel, called Regenerative Agriculture “how we make sure we have food security” in the future.
Robert Bonnie, USDA undersecretary of conservation responsible for designing much of the department’s climate policy, said the approach should be more results-oriented than label-oriented.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the terms [like] regenerative or climate-smart or all of those things,” Bonnie said in an interview. “There’s no clear line between, you know, the different types of agriculture. We are interested in climate-smart practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, store more carbon and, in many cases, can also contribute to the resilience of these operations.