“If a guy’s finding he could do that and use less fertilizer, great for him,” LaMalfa said. But LaMalfa, a rice farmer, cautioned that not all operations, including his own, can use the regenerative practices.
However, he said, he’s still “certainly” open to boosting existing USDA conservation programs as long as they remain voluntary.
In the Senate, Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, supports expanding regenerative practices — but his office steered away from wholesale endorsement of it by name.
“One person’s definition of regenerative ag may be different than another’s, but Ranking Member Boozman is supportive of making the conservation programs that are funded through the farm bill work better for our nation’s producers while helping them address their unique resource concerns, whether that’s soil health, erosion, water quality, water quantity, etc.,” his spokesperson said in a statement. “What he doesn’t want is what we saw in the Inflation Reduction Act where Congress funds one specific set of resource concerns focused on climate at the expense of other resource concerns like water quantity that producers across the nation are facing as drought continues to expand.”
Republicans could be swayed by the argument that regenerative agriculture is better for business. “We were saving one million dollars a year in input costs and we were increasing yield year-over-year in both corn and [soy]beans,” said Rick Clark, an Indiana farmer who transitioned to regenerative agriculture several years ago and testified to its benefits at a recent House Agriculture Committee hearing.
Democrats, for their part, are likely to keep pushing the issue.
Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who will likely continue as the House Agriculture panel’s top Democrat, called regenerative agriculture “the way we make sure that we have food security” in the future.
Robert Bonnie, the undersecretary for conservation at USDA who is responsible for designing much of the department’s climate policy, said the approach should be more focused on outcomes than labels.
“It’s easy to get caught up on terms [like] regenerative or climate-smart or all of these things,” Bonnie said in an interview. “There’s not a bright line between, you know, different types of agriculture. What we’re interested in is climate-smart practices that both reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, storing more carbon and in many cases can contribute to the resiliency of those operations as well.”
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