BOONE, Iowa — The federal government spending more than $1 billion on voluntary efforts to reduce the harmful effects of farming on the environment is a better long-term strategy than imposing new rules on farmers, said US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Tuesday.
While state and federal authorities in the United States have tended to shy away from implementing rules that could force farmers to drastically alter their longstanding practices, the European Union has specific requirements regarding crop rotations, permanent pastures and the use of buffer strips and other conservation practices. that improve soil quality.
Dutch farmers have protested against some of their country’s efforts in recent years to limit pollution from agriculture, in particular proposals to drastically reduce the number of livestock raised in the country. The European Union also recently suspended some of its crop rotation requirements to increase production due to global food shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Frankly, our view – and I’ve expressed this to EU officials – our view is that their approach could very well result in reduced production,” Vilsack told the Farm Progress Show in Boone, in response to a question about whether U.S. farmers could possibly face similar demands. He added: “I think our approach is better.”
The Virginia General Assembly has debated in recent years whether certain agricultural practices that reduce runoff from farms should be voluntary or mandatory, particularly as we approach the 2025 federal deadline for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. During the 2020 session, lawmakers considered making streamside fencing and nutrient management plans mandatory, but ultimately opted for a voluntary course in the near future. The intensely negotiated final legislation, however, included a clause specifying that the practices would become mandatory if pollution reduction targets were not met by 2025.
When asked to elaborate later on his comments, Vilsack said they were about organic farming and were the views of some European farmers. The European Green Deal aims to increase the amount of farmland managed to produce organic crops to 25% by 2030. The practice is more environmentally friendly but often produces lower yields.
The United States Department of Agriculture has proposed programs to expand organic agriculture in the United States, but has not set goals for converting farmland to organic farming. Vilsack said Tuesday that demand for U.S. agricultural products will continue to rise.
“The challenge is how to do it in a sustainable way? ” he said. “How do you increase production while doing it in a climate-smart way? »
He has repeatedly emphasized that federal initiatives announced over the past two years seek voluntary participation.
Later in the day, U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, echoed those sentiments when asked about potential provisions in the next farm bill: “We need to make sure we have voluntary conservation,” he said. “It’s so crucial.”
Vilsack spoke at length about the huge amount of federal funding available to support agricultural products that are produced in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. In February, the USDA offered up to $1 billion to support new “climate-smart” products.
He said the USDA would announce its first grant recipients in mid-September and hinted that projects proposed by universities in Missouri and South Dakota and the Iowa Soybean Association would be among them.
Vilsack and the USDA have unveiled a slew of new programs over the past two years with the goal of transforming aspects of U.S. agriculture, including helping reverse the consolidation of certain sectors in the hands of a few companies and increasing the number of farmers.
The USDA is also working to provide billions of dollars in debt relief to farmers who have struggled to repay their agricultural loans: “The most important thing is to keep people on the land,” said Vilsack told reporters last week about major legislation to help agriculture.
The USDA recently announced it would distribute up to $300 million for projects that help farmers who have received limited help from the department in the past. These groups of people have generally included new farmers and ranchers, those with low incomes, and those from racial or ethnic minorities. Projects eligible for funding would expand their access to land, money and markets, Vilsack said.
The ministry is also providing up to $250 million to minority-serving colleges and universities to help train food and agriculture professionals.
In June, Vilsack announced hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to support small, independent meat processors to help diversify this sector of agriculture, which over the years has become dominated by several large corporations.
Federal dollars have also been earmarked for organic farmers and for making new products from agricultural waste and leftover wood from thinning forests to protect against large fires.
This story first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister publication to The Virginia Mercury within the States Newsroom network.
by Jared Strong, Virginia Mercury
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