- Rural areas are especially vulnerable to the COVID-19-induced economic crisis, and will likely have the hardest time bouncing back. By investing in agriculture conservation and efficiency, the federal government has an opportunity to immediately relieve economic hardship and stimulate rural and semi-rural economies while making US farmers more productive and internationally competitive.
- Funding for federal working land conservation programs — such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) — has fallen since 2018. These two programs provide critical resources to address agricultural pollution and environmental impacts, while simultaneously providing income support for agricultural producers. Currently, only about a quarter of CSP and EQIP applications can be approved due to funding constraints. Without support, many agricultural producers cannot afford to adopt conservation practices, purchase more efficient equipment, or reduce their environmental impacts.
- Increasing the funding of USDA NRCS conservation programs — doubling EQIP and maintaining CSP funding through 2023 — and creating a one-time farm machinery rebate system would provide short term stimulus to rural and manufacturing communities, improve the long-term economic viability of agricultural producers, and reduce the environmental and climate impacts of agriculture, domestically. In total, these proposals amount to an immediate investment of $4.35 billion and subsequent investments totaling $2.0 billion from 2021 to 2023, with the potential to create 98,000 jobs.
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Rural areas in the United States are particularly vulnerable to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, farmers face low prices, shrinking export markets, and labor shortages, placing rural and semi-rural communities in dire straits. For example, the price for US corn is down over 15%, while hog prices are down more than 30% since the beginning of the year.
As part of ongoing efforts to support economic recovery, the US federal government has an opportunity to fund infrastructure and conservation projects that can supply much needed jobs to rural America and help improve the environmental and economic sustainability of American agriculture. One such opportunity is to increase funding for agriculture conservation programs on working lands — namely, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) — and fund efficiency improvements to agricultural machinery. Expanded funding to working land conservation programs and incentivizing the purchase of high tech, efficient equipment would provide short term economic stimulus, improve agricultural efficiency, and reduce environmental and climatic impacts of US agriculture.