Friday, February 7, 2014

New US Farm Bill is Good News for the Environment

A long awaited farm bill is finally set to be passed and it contains good news for farmers looking for protection against crop losses, land conservation, hemp farming, organics, renewable energy, biofuels, biorefineries and biomass. While the bill preserves programs that foster local agriculture, it does not tackle the biggest environmental issue of agriculture's huge carbon footprint which is responsible for around 33 percent of US carbon emissions. It specifically ignores addressing the massive footprint of agricultural fertilizers and factory farms.

Rather than giving direct cash subsidies to farmers at fixed rates farmers will now have a choice between protection against crop losses or protection against falling crop prices.

The new bill will entitle farmers and ranchers to be eligible for subsidies only when they conserve their lands, such as wetlands, grasslands and erodable land.

The legislation includes pilot research programs for hemp farming in 10 states to grow the crop. The US has one of the fastest growing markets for hemp but it is forced to import the product from China due to federal drug laws which prohibit cultivation.

The bill also includes $881 million that continues funding the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) rural renewable energy and biofuels programs (REAP) which funds up to 25 percent of a renewable energy system (solar, wind, biogas) or energy efficiency upgrade and provides additional support through loan guarantees. A total of 8,250 projects have been installed under the Obama administration to date.

The Biorefinery Assistance Program supports young companies in getting their biofuel technologies off the ground. For the first time, the bill also supports bio-based chemicals as part of biorefinery and biomass assistance programs.

The bill contains more funding for the National Organic Program. It will be used to enforce organic standards, improve technology and negotiate international trade agreements, as well as funding research on organic farming practices and providing financial assistance for small farms to afford organic certification. Organic farmers, distributors and marketers will now have access to the same agriculture research and promotion programs as conventional farmers.

The compromise Agriculture Act of 2014 will now go back to the Senate for a final vote where it is expected to pass without much opposition.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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