While a portion of federal conservation programs are currently funding industrial agriculture practices, the demand from farmers across the country to access support for real and beneficial conservation practices is growing.
Industrial animal agriculture is a well-documented and significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, water and air pollution, poor animal welfare and environmental injustice.
One way the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempts to address the harms caused by industrial agriculture is with conservation programs funded through the Farm Bill. These programs are intended to “help agricultural producers improve their environmental performance with respect to soil health, water quality, air quality, wildlife habitat, and greenhouse gas emissions.”
However, one of the leading conservation programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), also supports the factory farm system of industrial animal agriculture — the very system that impairs rural water and air quality, releases high levels of greenhouse gases and undercuts independent farmers using high animal welfare systems that protect the environment! Since 2002, 50% of total EQIP funding has been required to support livestock operations, including industrial-scale factory farms. These EQIP contracts are often up to six figures and pay for equipment and infrastructure that support and lock in the industrial model, ultimately using limited conservation funds to subsidize factory farms.
Farmers want to use more agroecological practices on their farms, and there’s high demand to gain access federal conservation programs. However, there aren’t enough available resources to meet that demand. Funding diverted to industrial animal operations restricts dollars available for genuine conservation.
Shifting funding from expensive industrial agriculture practices towards less expensive practices (that have greater conservation impact) would enable USDA to award more money to farmers who want to start implementing or expanding on-farm conservation practices.
Photo credit: We Animals Media
How much money goes to detrimental industrial practices rather than to practices that have real environmental benefits?
In 2022, seven EQIP contracts totaling $1,983,965 went to seven anaerobic digesters for large-scale, industrial animal operations. That funding could have much greater impact if applied to true conservation practices: The money spent on those seven digesters could have helped 238 farmers plant cover crops.
Click on each practice below to learn more.
Each state sets its own priorities for EQIP spending. On the map below, hover over each state to discover which practices the state prioritizes and how much money is funneled to industrial practices.
In North Carolina, more than half of EQIP money in 2022 went to industrial practices; in the same year, 84.47% of farmers who applied to EQIP in North Carolina were rejected. Pennsylvania is a close runner up as a top funder of industrial agriculture practices, with 46.22% of EQIP money put towards industrial agriculture in 2022.
Farmers need funding to implement cost-effective, climate-resilient farming practices. With reforms, EQIP and other conservation programs can play a meaningful role in both mitigation and adaptation.
The Inflation Reduction Act expanded funding for high-demand conservation programs. Congress must protect that funding.
The 2023 Farm Bill should institute reforms, such as the EQIP Improvement Act, to divert funding away from costly, high-emissions industrial-scale practices and toward proven practices that insulate farmers from the shocks of climate change. The bill would:
To learn more about U.S. conservation programs, read each of the four reports in the Closed Out series.