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'This is a huge push in the right direction': What the Inflation Reduction Act means for Ohio farmers

A Greene County farm planted with cover crops that help replenish nutrients back into the soil and minimize run-off into local watersheds.
Alejandro Figueroa
/
WYSO
A Greene County farm planted with cover crops that help replenish nutrients back into the soil and minimize run-off into local watersheds.

President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act on Tuesday. The historic legislation includes about $40 billion toward federal climate change and agriculture investments.

A big chunk of the money will go toward conservation programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some of those programs managed by departments such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service help restore farming ecosystems and reduce carbon emissions.

About $20 billion will go toward climate focused agriculture practices, according to a press release from the Ohio NRCS office.

Some of those conservation practices include minimizing fertilizer run-off from fields into local watersheds, not tilling the land and planting cover crops that absorb carbon and replenish nutrients back into the soil.

Cover crops include plants like radishes, clover, buckwheat and several types of grasses and are typically planted after a harvest. Cover crops have deep roots which hold a field's soil in place and minimize run-off.

Additional practices include diversifying crops rather than just planting soy and corn — which are the two major crops of Ohio. Instead, introducing a variety of crops helps diversify the nutrients in the soil.

For Michele Burns, the executive director of the Tecumseh Land Trust — a conservation non-profit in Greene County — this bill is a big deal.

“Farmers are on the front line of climate change, we just need more resources. And so this bill is exactly what we need,” Burns said.

In 2021 about 140,000 acres of farmland in Ohio were enrolled in some sort of conservation practice through programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Both initiatives provide farmers with technical or financial assistance to implement some sort of conservation practice into their farm.

Burns said one issue is funds are typically limited for these programs, in fact too many farmers apply. But with this new bill, more growers can get the opportunity to get the resources they need.

“I think for farmers in particular you're going to start seeing them able to implement the best conservation practices that are available,” Burns said. “We here in particularly Western Ohio are so blessed to have prime soils. And so the healthier that soil is, the more efficiently you can grow food, which all of that is better for the environment.”

Carrie Cusick, the assistant state conservationist for programs at Ohio NRCS, said the money will only allow the agency to incentivize more farmers into these programs.

“Ultimately our goal as an agency is to work with our Ohio producers and build in that resiliency within the food supply and at the same time leave a positive mark to help combat the impacts of climate change.”

About 11% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture in the U.S. Cusick said these programs are meant to curb the climate change impact while also helping farmers be part of the solution to climate change.

“We're providing a sustainable way for our society to be able to continue. We are providing healthy, safe food that gets to the end consumer, and it starts all with the land.” Cusick said.

Ohio has a moderate adoption of cover crops use, according to the USDA. Burns added there’s still barriers that keep conventional farmers from adopting some of the conservation practices.

“Not having the right equipment. Or maybe [they] use the wrong cover crop,” Burns said. “So it's really just a learning process.”

Burns said she’s looking forward to minimizing that gap and providing farmers with the resources and education they need.

The federal money will also allow the agency to reach more historically underserved farmers and urban farms. The Ohio NRCS office is still waiting on more details from national offices on when the funds will be available for states.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Support for WYSO's reporting on food and food insecurity in the Miami Valley comes from the CareSource Foundation.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming