As farmers begin to sow their crops, I feel a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, waking up each morning to discover that progress on the new Farm Bill remains stalled in the House and Senate. To support American farmers and ranchers and protect our grasslands and other key habitats, lawmakers need to pass the Farm Bill and ensure that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) investments in climate-smart agriculture and conservation programs are not diverted elsewhere. Unfortunately, partisan disagreements are putting these critical resources for farmers at risk.

The $20 billion that the IRA has allocated toward effective and popular Farm Bill climate mitigation programs is an enormous opportunity for the farmers, ranchers, and forest owners who work every day to steward America’s lands. Rolling out over five years, this investment constitutes the largest investment in conservation on farms since the Dust Bowl era. These critical resources help producers adopt management approaches to mitigate climate change. Many of these same practices also help farmers and ranchers adapt to the impacts of extreme weather events, including heat waves, prolonged drought, and flooding. Data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that producer demand for conservation programs continues to outstrip available funds, even with the $19.5 billion of additional funding for conservation set aside through the IRA.

IRA conservation funding also supports North American grasslands, one of the world’s most threatened habitats. Some 60% of this 700+ million-acre Great Plains landscape—a region the size of Alaska—has been lost to the plow or the spread of invasive trees and shrubs. The most recent Plowprint analysis by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found that plowup destroyed 1.6 million acres of grasslands across the US and Canadian portions of the Great Plains in 2021 alone, mostly on lands not ideal for row crop agriculture. In total, 32 million acres have fallen to the plow since 2012, when WWF first began tracking grassland conversion across the region.

We are at a tipping point for the future of our grasslands. The historic investment in agriculture conservation programs provided by the IRA can help change this trajectory by providing support that mitigates climate change while supporting ranching and other livelihoods. These funds support rural and underserved communities, Native Nations, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts. They also provide important investments in programs to keep grasslands intact and support sustainable grazing. When grasslands are plowed, they release carbon into the atmosphere, increase sediment flows, and fertilizer seepage into rivers, leading to algal blooms and other harmful events. To make this water usable for drinking, downstream communities are forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to filter and clean it.

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To support grassland preservation and sustainable grazing, lawmakers should allocate IRA and Farm Bill funds to enhance Environmental Quality Incentives and Conservation Stewardship Programs, which provide incentives to producers to adopt conservation measures. They should increase funding for conservation assistance and prioritize staff hiring for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and foster partnerships for sustainable grazing. Lawmakers should further leverage the Farm Bill to strengthen the Grasslands Conservation Reserve Program by offering longer contracts, improving infrastructure support, and prioritizing enrollments in core areas.

Congress should also address grassland conversion drivers, such as crop insurance subsidies, by expanding and strengthening the national Sodsaver provision. Instead of just reducing subsidies for crop insurance on newly converted grasslands in six states, Sodsaver should eliminate insurance subsidies for recently plowed grasslands nationally.

Beyond protecting grasslands, these resources provide crucial support for producers who are willing to play a much-needed role in making our agricultural landscape and our food system more regenerative and climate-smart. In addition to helping landowners steward and support natural resources on their lands and build resilience in their agricultural operations, these conservation programs also deliver benefits to the public by improving water and air quality, reducing the burden on taxpayers to pay for crop losses, and more.

It's time for Congress to unite, break us out of this all-too-familiar cycle of will-they-or-won’t-they, and pass a 2024 Farm Bill. Our elected officials must follow through on the historic investment for on-farm conservation provided by the IRA. They made a promise to agricultural producers across the nation that the IRA would be there for them. This critical funding can help ensure our nation’s great grasslands and the communities that depend upon them will thrive for generations to come.

Suzy Friedman is the Senior Director for Food Policy at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). She leads WWF’s efforts to enable agriculture to be net zero by 2040 while also supporting the economic viability of producers and communities.