The climate funding package that Senate Democrats have agreed on should make it easier to pass the next farm bill while helping consumers and producers deal with climate change, says a Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Tina Smith of Minnesota.
“I think it's going to make a big difference for lowering prices for consumers and helping support strong energy,” Smith said of the bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, in an Agri-Pulse Newsmakers interview. “Rural energy is clean energy, and being able to support that and this bill along with the conservation programs is a big deal.”
The bill, which the Senate is expected to pass over the weekend, would provide about $20 billion for farm bill conservation programs and $20 billion more for energy and forestry programs. Some Republicans have expressed concern about the precedent of using the budget reconciliation process to revise and fund farm bill programs without input from the minority party. “We have never written a farm bill in this manner. It is antithetical to how the Senate—and the Ag Committee in particular—should operate," said the committee's ranking Republican John Boozman of Arkansas.
But Smith believes the Inflation Reduction Act addresses a major farm bill need. "Many more farmers want to participate in these programs if we have dollars to allow for that. All of that makes me feel comfortable that we are moving in the right direction and actually moving in the direction that there's already demand for in agriculture that we just haven’t been able to meet," she said.
Newsmakers panelist and National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said the bill would represent a "historic investment" in conservation programs, but he also recognized that other areas of the legislation could stand to see increased financial support in the upcoming legislation.
"Having this investment of cash now certainly isn't a bad thing; we strongly support it," he said. "But the effect that it may have on the farm bill I think is a very tough thing to measure right now. When we get to the farm bill, nobody ever wants to be in a conversation about taking from one title into another."
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“I think certainly, we want to make sure that there is a sufficient investment also in title one [commodity programs], in safety net programs like crop insurance and so forth, and to make sure that nutrition is taken care of," he said. "So, I think those conversations shouldn't be necessarily tied up right now in a conversation about looking at this historic investment in many of these programs, including ... conservation programs.”
In addition to its impact on conservation programs, the Inflation Reduction Act has flagged the attention of the biodiesel industry. The bill would create a clean fuels tax credit for low-carbon biofuels and provide $500 million for biofuel infrastructure.
Kurt Kovarik, the vice president of federal affairs at Clean Fuels Alliance America, noted that the legislation would provide a tax credit extension for biofuels through 2024, as a bridge to the new clean fuels credit.
“Our motivation in this all along has been if you're going to put forward policies that address climate, energy independence, homegrown energy, biodiesel, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel we need to be a strong component of that,” said Kovarik. “It shouldn't be just electric vehicles or just new technologies coming down the road. There are existing technologies like biodiesel, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel that are delivering, you know, homegrown gallons of low carbon fuels today that are adding to the value of America's farmers.”
To hear more about the future of the Inflation Reduction Act, biofuels and more tune into this week’s episode of Agri-Pulse Newsmakers.
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