USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, Robert Bonnie, says the department is trying to be both “aggressive” and “smart” in getting Inflation Reduction Act funding out the door. The pace of spending is important because the Congressional Budget Office has doubted USDA can spend all of those conservation dollars by 2031, as allowed by law. Money that’s been distributed to farmers also can’t be clawed back by a future Congress.  

“We'll be out in the not-too-distant future with RCPP,” Bonnie said, referring to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. “We may do what we did last year, which was commit all of this year's dollars [and] maybe a little bit of next year's dollars.”

Bonnie was speaking at a League of Conservation Voters event featuring farmers who are using climate-smart practices. 

In case there was any doubt: Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., reiterated at the event that she would oppose GOP proposals to remove climate guardrails from the IRA conservation funding – or to move some of the funding to other parts of the farm bill.  “No,” she said of said of the latter idea. “The answer to that is ‘no.’”

House Ag Democrat makes case for IRA restrictions

A Democrat on the House Ag Committee, Illinois Rep. Nikki Budzinski, says on this week’s Agri-Pulse Newsmakers that she also would like to see the IRA conservation funding brought into the farm bill. But she insists on retaining the climate-related restrictions on the type of practices that can be funded.

She says it’s “really important that we have those climate-smart guardrails on that spending, … just making sure that those dollars aren't siphoned off for other projects, other potential interests, that they're used for their intended purposes.”

She also stresses the importance of keeping IRA funding within the conservation title. Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson has proposed moving the money into other titles. “We know that EQIP applications are denied not because of lack of interest or lack of need, but because of oversubscription,” she says, referring to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.  

This week’s Newsmakers will be available today at

Farmers face deadlines today

It’s March 15 today, which means it’s the deadline for farmers to pick between the two main commodity programs, Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage. It’s also the sales closing date for crop insurance in much of the country, and that may be the most important date, given how ARC and PLC work. 

“Despite bearish prices for many commodities, ARC and PLC are still unlikely to provide any assistance in most cases,” Texas A&M University economist Bart Fischer says in a post on Southern Ag Today. He encourages farmers to consider buy-up area-based insurance coverage, including the Supplemental Coverage Option.

PLC triggers payments in years when the average marketing price for a commodity is below its reference price. ARC pays out when area farm revenue falls below a five-year average.

FTC, DOJ ask copyright enforcer to consider ‘right to repair’ 

The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department’s Antitrust Division are urging the U.S. Copyright Office to limit manufacturers’ powers under a 26-year-old copyright law to “lock" access to software. The FTC and DOJ argue companies can use these abilities to shut out equipment owners and independent repair shops looking to fix equipment.

The agencies, in a joint comment to the United States Copyright Office, say it should protect exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, limiting manufacturers from shutting out consumers looking to conduct “non-infringing diagnosis, maintenance and repair” on software used in agricultural equipment, land vehicles and marine vessels. 

The agencies also are asking the Copyright Office to expand these protections to software in other types of commercial and industrial equipment.

FCC sets new benchmark for fixed broadband speeds

The Federal Communications Commission has raised its fixed broadband benchmark to an upload speed of 100 megabits per second and download speed of 20 megabits per second.

The change represents a “four-fold increase” from the 25/3 benchmark it set in 2015, according to a press release.

Is it enough? National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson lauded the decision in a press release, though representatives of the organization have previously argued a 100/20 Mbps standard is “inadequate to equitably serve the needs of rural America” and that the agency should instead adopt a 100/100 Mbps standard.

Sage grouse plan draws mixed reaction

Conservation groups are divided over the latest sage-grouse plan issued by the Bureau of Land Management. Some groups say it doesn’t go far enough to protect the bird from oil and gas drilling, while others are praising BLM for recognizing that intact habitats are necessary to achieve recovery.

Affecting 69 million acres across 10 states, the plan does not designate Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, which require special management. Such designations “would offer hope that some habitat will be protected, but the preferred alternative doesn’t designate them,” said Steve Holmer of the American Bird Conservancy.

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Other groups, however, were more optimistic. “There’s more to do, but this is an important step toward protecting the sage grouse and the resources it relies upon,” said Bobby McEnaney, Director of Nature for Natural Resources Defense Council.

Wyoming Gov. Mike Gordon, a Republican, said he was pleased with the plan. “The first pass shows the BLM picked a preferred alternative that will allow for detailed comments [and] that specifically addresses Wyoming’s concerns.” In particular, he pointed to BLM’s decision not to identify Areas of Critical Environmental Concern “on top of our state-identified core areas.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council said more time is needed to comment. 

Sigrid Johannes, director of the Public Lands Council and NCBA Government Affairs, said BLM’s proposals “will impact millions of acres across 10 different states. A 90-day comment window is laughable. The BLM needs to extend the comment period to allow for full, informed public engagement.”

In analyzing the text, Johannes said the groups will “be looking for is a strong acknowledgment of the reality that science has proven time and time again, [that] responsible livestock grazing is fully compatible with sage grouse populations.”

She said it. “With this decision, shipments from such companies, whose labor practices egregiously violate human rights and produce catfish using dangerous chemicals and drugs that severely compromise public health, will continue to be deterred.” – Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., claiming victory after a Commerce Department decision not to reduce antidumping duties on Vietnamese catfish.