Report claims the efficacy of USDA’s ‘climate-friendly’ farming and ranching practices is still unproven



A report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has questioned the effectiveness of several recently added farming practices to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The EWG argues that these “climate-smart” practices, which include brush management and irrigation systems, lack sufficient evidence to prove they reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While USDA argues these practices have undergone rigorous scientific evaluation, the EWG suggests that funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, meant for addressing climate change, should only be reserved for methods proven to be effective.

A Report by the Environmental Working Group Challenges New Farming Practices Added to USDA’s EQIP Program

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has expressed skepticism over the effectiveness of several “climate-smart” farming practices recently added to the US Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The USDA, however, maintains that these practices have undergone “a rigorous science-based evaluation process.”

The EWG suggests the Inflation Reduction Act funds should not be utilized to compensate farmers for employing these practices until substantial evidence of their effectiveness is established. This assertion was made in a recent report concerning the EQIP.

Initiated in the 1990s by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the EQIP program has been providing farmers with financial backing to execute approved conservation methods. The program’s present authorization stems from the 2018 Farm Bill.

The EWG report states that several of the 15 farming practices, especially those related to irrigation and livestock management, earmarked for this funding have minimal impact on climate change. Anne Schechinger, agricultural economist and EWG Midwest Director, points out the lack of quantifiable data supporting the practices’ ability to reduce greenhouse gases.

The USDA, on the other hand, adamantly defends the EQIP program’s climate-smart agricultural practices. USDA spokesman, Allan Rodriguez, remarks that the department’s selection of climate-smart practices is based on “rigorous, science-based methodology.” He believes the EWG’s findings to be “fundamentally flawed and speculative.”

Despite Rodriguez’s assurance, Jonathan Coppess, an ag-policy researcher, believes the EWG report raises valid concerns. He emphasizes the importance of judicious use of Inflation Reduction Act funds, as they are scheduled to expire after the 2026 fiscal year.

Contrastingly, Erik Lichtenberg, an agricultural economist at the University of Maryland, argues there are more benefits to the practices than the EWG report acknowledges. He asserts that implementing not fully proven practices could lead to crucial insights about their effectiveness under different conditions and climates.

The USDA has only funded about a third of the applications they received for the EQIP program between fiscal years 2018 and 2022. According to Rodriguez, the Inflation Reduction Act’s additional funding is expanding the number of farmers EQIP can support and financing efforts to monitor and verify the effectiveness of new practices.

These efforts aim to “quantify the impact of conservation practices on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration and ensure that future resources are directed to the most effective practices,” said Rodriguez.

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