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.  

On-farm conservation practices: Cover crops, rotational grazing, crop rotation

Farmers’ unmet demand for conservation

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.

Made with Flourish 

Industrial animal agriculture: Factory farming

Photo credit: We Animals Media

Funding industrial agriculture

How much money goes to detrimental industrial practices rather than to practices that have real environmental benefits? 

Made with Flourish
  • In 2022, two of the top 10 EQIP practices by total dollar amount spent — waste facility cover and waste storage facility — provided little to no conservation benefit. The two practices together received $187,382,019 that year alone, despite their association with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
  • Six of the 10 highest-funded practices are commonly used under industrial agriculture systems with practices targeted toward large-scale, animal or crop operations.

Made with Flourish

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.

    11 industrial practices funded by EQIP

    Click on each practice below to learn more.

    State-by-state spending 

    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.

    Made with Flourish

    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.

    Policy reforms

    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:

    1. Eliminate the 50% livestock requirement: This would reverse a 2002 decision requiring that 50% of EQIP funds be directed to livestock operations, including factory farms.
    2. Lower the cap per contract from $450,000 to $150,000: Because the highest-cost contracts tend to support industrial-scale livestock operations, lowering the payment cap would free up funding for more cost-effective practices while reducing subsidies to factory farms.

    Featured reports 

    To learn more about U.S. conservation programs, read each of the four reports in the Closed Out series.