Recommended changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a farm program designed to encourage conservation, may instead promote the expansion of factory farms that harm the climate. EQIP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS), and is one of the largest federal conservation programs. It is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to address soil, water, air, and other natural resource concerns. Since its inception in 1997, EQIP has invested in nearly 600,000 contracts for a total of about $11 billion on 232 million acres.
As climate change makes farming more risky with erratic temperatures, increased drought and flood, and other extreme weather events, conservation programs can provide an opportunity for producers to undertake practices that increase their farm’s resilience to climate impacts without taking a large economic hit. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized several changes to the program intended to simplify regulation, but instead the proposed changes would provide distinct advantages for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Animal waste storage and treatment facilities have become the second largest user of EQIP funds, behind only irrigation equipment. Funding projects that benefit large-scale CAFOs not only wreaks havoc on the climate; it also ends up disproportionately benefiting large operations over small to mid-sized family farms.
Among the changes proposed in the EQIP interim final rule was an elimination of the requirement for EQIP applications of $150,000 or greater to require the review of a Regional Conservationist. The projects most likely to receive such large payments would be in support of CAFOs, including construction of manure lagoons and methane digesters. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which IATP is a member of, submitted comments to urge requiring the approval of Regional Conservationists for all projects as an invaluable check to track the cumulative impacts of projects in a region.
The 2014 Farm Bill directs 60% of EQIP funds to be allocated to livestock-related practices, with no additional stipulations. These funds are not currently required to prioritize sustainable livestock management, and could be used to build new CAFOs and expand existing ones. IATP agrees with NSAC’s comments asserting that prioritizing sustainable livestock management practices – including rotational grazing, forage management, and infrastructure to protect streams and lakes from livestock impacts – should be required in the final EQIP rule.
Animal agriculture contributes an estimated 18% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. Conservation programs such as EQIP should not be propping up or fixing CAFOs that pollute the air and water, contribute to deforestation and draining of wetlands, and encourage chemical-heavy farming to grow the corn and soy fed to the animals. Instead, investment should go to livestock production systems such as rotational grazing that reduce risks associated with climate change while at the same time significantly reducing or eliminating water and air pollution and increasing soil health.