President Joe Biden and cabinet members, including top USDA officials, start a two-week rural America tour Wednesday to “barnstorm the country” and highlight $5 billion in rural infrastructure and conservation investments.

The president will announce a new $1.7 billion investment in conservation funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, with $1.1 billion designated for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program in 35 states across 81 projects to fund large-scale conservation projects.

Rural infrastructure will also get a boost under the plan to be unveiled Wednesday with $1 billion designated to lower costs for electricity production and invest in water and wastewater infrastructure; additional funds are also targeted toward expanding high-speed internet access.

The conservation and Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) announcements use IRA funds, and investments in the ReConnect program for expanding internet access are from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Biden also will unveil $2 billion for communities in 10 states where the administration established the Rural Partners Network in areas of persistent and deep poverty.

“Taken together, these are game-changing investments not just for rural America, but for all,” Neera Tanden, assistant to the president and domestic policy adviser, shared with reporters ahead of the event.

The president’s tour will begin at Dutch Creek Farms, south of the Twin Cities in Northfield, Minnesota. Tanden said the owner of the farm has “employed climate-smart agricultural practices and benefited from the administration’s competition agenda.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the farm participates in the Environmental Quality Incentive Program as well as the Conservation Stewardship Program. “They understand the significance of the conservation resources that are provided,” Vilsack said of the farm owners.

The announcement also includes $100 million through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), $250 million for CSP and $250 million for EQIP.

Minnesota, Vilsack said, has been a “heavy promoter of and user of the various conservation projects and programs.” Vilsack added there are “a lot of folks in Minnesota that understand and appreciate climate-smart agriculture and the enormous new income opportunities and environmental benefits that accrues.”

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As lawmakers debate the possibility of shifting the IRA funding into the farm bill baseline — and some suggest reallocating the funding away from its current climate-smart ag focus — Vilsack said there remains “tremendous demand” for conservation reflected in the fact that with the $850 million in available RCPP funds, USDA received more than $2 billion worth of requests.

“There is a hunger for this conservation opportunity,” he said.

RCCP allows states and entities to come together with farmers in a region to seek conservation dollars that can do things such as improve soil health and water quality.

Biden will also announce $145 million for REAP to benefit 697 small businesses and farms across 44 states. Vilsack said this will help small businesses and farms lower utility costs, as well as position farmers to “take full advantage” of additional IRA investments to transition rural electric cooperatives from using electricity generated by fossil fuels to more renewable.

An additional $274 million will go toward USDA’s ReConnect Program across nine states to expand high-speed internet access in rural communities. This adds to the nearly $2 billion in ReConnect funds connecting more than 200,000 people to affordable, reliable high-speed internet, according to Mitch Landrieu, senior adviser to the president and White House infrastructure implementation coordinator.

“We're doing this because in rural America high-speed internet can close the rural health care gap by increasing access to telemedicine, help farmers engage in precision agriculture, connect people to jobs and education even states away so that no one in rural America has to move away from home to find economic opportunity,” Landrieu said.

Over the next two weeks, several officials will be across the country touting the efforts the administration has made to invest in rural America. USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small will visit Wisconsin and Michigan to discuss rural economic development efforts. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will travel to New Mexico to highlight rural water infrastructure and investments in Colorado to remediate abandoned mine lands in rural communities.

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm will travel to Arizona to highlight investments to upgrade the electric grid. Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough will visit Iowa to highlight how the administration is supporting veterans who live in rural communities.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai will travel to Indiana to discuss trade efforts with farmers.

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