How the Inflation Reduction Act Affects Food and Agriculture
Black farmers “are going to have to do paperwork to document the discrimination that has happened, but we can fix it,” said Lloyd Wright, a retired farmer and former director of the USDA Civil Rights Office, to Lisa Held of Civil Eats. “I think it’s going to really help the black community.”
“I am thrilled that the Inflation Reduction Act clarifies and reappropriates this US bailout funding,” Senator Booker said. Mother Jones. “By giving the USDA the power to modify the debt of distressed borrowers, we will keep the country’s family farmers on their farms. For farmers, especially black farmers, who have experienced discrimination from the USDA, this legislation sets in motion a process to right those wrongs.
As I wrote in my book Perilous Bounty, climate change is ravaging the American Midwest, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. The corn belt, as it is called, is dominated by only two crops, corn and soybeans, both of which are harvested in the fall, leaving the ground bare until spring planting. This leaves the soil vulnerable to severe storms, accelerated by warming temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, which hit the region in the off-season, washing away huge amounts of valuable topsoil in streams and polluting the water with chemicals. agrochemicals.
Soil erosion in the Midwest, as I discovered through my research, occurs at about 16 times the natural rate of replenishment. A 2021 study from the University of Massachusetts found that a third of the region has already given up all of its topsoil, putting the Corn Belt’s future as an agricultural powerhouse in jeopardy.
The IRA is doubling down on a policy that helps maintain the region’s soil-eating corn-soya duopoly. That would be the government’s longstanding support for ethanol, which consumes about a third of the corn crop, thanks to federal mandates. In the United States, most automotive fuels are 90% gasoline and 10% corn ethanol. The new bill provides $500 million to help gas stations upgrade pumps to take fuel containing 15% ethanol, allowing for huge expansion.
The trade group American Coalition for Ethanol praised the bill for its “significant provisions recognizing the role that farmers and ethanol producers can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” But many scientists have a different perspective. In a 2022 peer-reviewed paper, a group of US university land-grant researchers found that the government’s ethanol mandate has caused farmers to plant more corn and use more fertilizer. polluting water and generating greenhouse gases. Overall, they found, the push to use more ethanol is likely increase greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill also bolsters the fortunes of the ethanol industry by increasing a tax credit known as 45Q – which is paid to operations that sequester carbon dioxide in the ground – by $50 per ton. of CO2 at $85 per ton. As Clive Thompson pointed out in a Mother Jones last year, federally subsidized carbon capture risks turning into a simple gift from taxpayers to incumbent polluting industries, such as oil, natural gas, coal and ethanol.