Pasture-raised dairy cows

Dairy cows in Cloverdale, Ore., leave the milking barn and head for the field. The reconciliation bill in Congress may include funding for conservation programs, an industry lobbyist says.

The budget reconciliation package being developed in Congress may include funding for conservation programs that impact dairy, an industry lobbyist says.

“The excitement here for us in the agriculture space, in particular for dairy, is the possibility of new funding, increased funding for conservation programs over time,” said Paul Bleiberg, senior vice president of government relations at the National Milk Producers Federation.

The emphasis is on climate-smart practices that can yield meaningful environmental benefits, he said during NMPF’s latest “Dairy Defined” podcast.

Those benefits include sequestering carbon in soil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, better emphasis on feed management, he said.

“So we see a tremendous amount of potential in that element of what’s being entertained for this package,” he said.

It seems pretty likely the bill will be less than the $3.5 trillion floated in the press, and different lawmakers and different constituencies are fighting to make sure their interests are prioritized in that smaller amount, he said.

The push for climate-smart funding in the reconciliation bill fits well with the dairy industry’s Net Zero Initiative because it’s a push to reposition conservation programs to better enable dairy farmers to do more of what they’re already trying to do, he said.

The goal of the Net Zero Initiative is for the dairy industry to become carbon neutral or better by 2050.

NMPF has long supported farm bill conservation programs and robust funding for them, he said.

“But over the course of many different administrations in both political parties, they’ve not really emphasized some of the stewardship that we think could be really, really beneficial to helping dairy farmers reduce their footprint,” he said.

One example is feed management.

“Enteric emissions account for roughly one-third of a dairy farm’s greenhouse gas footprint. But USDA hasn’t done a lot of work in recent years reviewing and updating its feed management (conservation) practice standard, taking a look at what can be done as far as using feed additives to reduce enteric emissions,” he said.

Another example is nutrient management.

“This is a resource concern for us in a lot of different parts of the country. And we think a lot could be done within conservation programs to increase the options for producers to implement advanced nutrient management plans, looking at nutrient recovery,” he said.

That would be things like separating out nitrogen and phosphorus from manure and, of course, improving water quality in that context, he said.

“So the push for climate-smart ag funding is to not only increase funding for conservation programs but also to emphasize some of these areas that are really key for dairy are critical priorities for us because it can help realize the Net Zero Initiative,” he said.

The climate-smart agriculture funding in the reconciliation package also has implications for the next farm bill.

Funding in the reconciliation package is over a 10-year period. That means in 2023 when Congress takes up the farm bill, the baseline for conservation programs will be larger than it is today, he said.

“Getting this funding in the reconciliation package now is really key to enabling us to build on that in the farm bill with the policy changes that we want to see,” he said.

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