Minnesota farmers do not have access to federal conservation dollars


Minnesota farmers show great interest in federal incentives to improve their conservation practices, but only a small minority have managed to win the grants.

This is not unique to Minnesota farmers, according to a new study from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. He revealed that between 2010 and 2020, successful demands from farmers across the country declined dramatically in two US Department of Agriculture programs that help farmers pay for equipment and adopt practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help them adapt to climate change.

“This is going in the wrong direction in terms of ensuring that farmers have access to programs that incentivize the fight against climate change,” said Michael Happ, who led the study.

The gap between claims and recipients is particularly marked in Minnesota. Last year, only 17% of Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Assistance Program (EQIP) applicants were awarded contracts, and only 14% were successful in applying to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP ).

As the Biden administration and Congress prepare a federal spending package and Democrats call for significant new investments in combating and mitigating climate change, advocates for the two programs administered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service of the USDA claim that EQIP and CSP are proven and effective. to enlist the farmers directly in the battle.

“If we’re going to talk about how farmers can be part of the climate solution – well, they’re literally asking to do it, all we have to do is fund them,” said Jessica Kochick, policy organizer. federal governments to the Land Stewardship Project.

The Land Stewardship Project and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, both Minnesota-based nonprofits that promote the sustainability of agriculture, are advocating at the federal level for increased spending on both programs as governments Democrats are developing their reconciliation plan.

Kochick said many members of the progressive agriculture movement prefer established agendas that promote beneficial land management, as opposed to carbon market proposals in which companies seeking to offset their own carbon emissions would pay farmers for it. that they adopt more environmentally friendly practices.

But some Democrats in Washington have pushed carbon markets despite these concerns; On Thursday, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the subject.

Ben Lilliston, director of rural strategies and climate change at the Institute, tweeted during the hearing that he agreed more with Republicans on the panel – “that a larger investment in conservation programs is much better for farmers, that these markets pay farmers little and shut down small farmers, ”he wrote.

Advocates speculated that one of the reasons the rejections from both programs were so high in Minnesota is that the state has been a leader in sustainable agriculture and that many farmers who received the incentives during some time were deemed ineligible.

Of the 1,541 Minnesota farmers who applied for the CSP last year, 223 were awarded contracts. Out of 3,512 who applied for EQIP, 611 were awarded contracts. With 50 states and two eligible territories, that left Minnesota 47th for CSP contracts and 50th for EQIP contracts.

Some other agricultural states had similarly low rates, but this was not universal. Of 3,635 Wisconsin farmers who applied last year, 1,436 got contracts, for example.

The National Resource Conservation Service press office did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

Congress cut funding for programs in the 2018 Farm Bill at the behest of the Trump administration, and Kochick has said that since then incentives have been more likely to be given to new applicants.

Hannah Bernhardt raises grass-fed beef, lambs and pork on pastures near Pine City. At 39, she has worked in agriculture full time for five years after returning from the east coast to Minnesota. Last year, she received approximately $ 30,000 in EQIP funds which enabled her to install the permanent fences and water pipes necessary for a rotating grazing system that promotes soil health and reduces the release of soil. carbon.

“This has allowed us to expand and develop our business,” said Bernhardt, and to grow his herd from 10 to 40 cattle. She said she felt doubly lucky when she learned how few Minnesota farmers qualified last year.

“They figured out how to help farmers,” Bernhardt said. “But if everyone can’t access it, he’s not doing what he could.”

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