Effects of the anti-inflation law on food and agriculture

Black farmers “have to do some paperwork to document the discrimination that has occurred, but we can work through that,” Lloyd Wright, a retired farmer and former director of the USDA’s Bureau of Civil Rights, told Civil Eats’ Lisa Held. “I think it’s going to really help the black community.”

“I’m pleased that the Inflation Reduction Act is clarifying and re-appropriating this funding from the American Rescue Plan,” Senator Booker said Mother Jones. “By giving the USDA the power to modify debt for bad borrowers, we will keep family farmers on their farms across the country. For farmers, particularly black farmers, who have suffered USDA discrimination, this legislation begins a process to right those wrongs.”

The bad

As I wrote in my book Dangerous bounty, Climate change is devastating the US Midwest, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. The corn belt, as it is known, is dominated by just two crops, corn and soybeans, both of which are harvested in the fall, leaving the soil bare until spring sowing. This leaves the ground vulnerable to violent storms, compounded by warming Gulf of Mexico, that pound the region during the off-season, flushing vast amounts of valuable topsoil into streams and polluting the water with agrochemicals.

Soil erosion in the Midwest, as I discovered in the course of my research, is occurring at about 16 times the natural rate of replenishment. A 2021 University of Massachusetts study found that a third of the region has already abandoned its entire layer of prime topsoil, threatening the Corn Belt’s future as an agricultural powerhouse.

The IRA is stepping up policies that are helping to perpetuate the region’s soil-eating corn-soy duopoly. That would be the government’s longstanding support for ethanol, which, thanks to federal regulations, uses up about a third of the corn crop. Most automotive fuel in the United States is 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent corn ethanol. The new bill includes $500 million to help gas stations retrofit pumps to accept fuel containing 15 percent ethanol, allowing for huge expansion.

The trade group American Coalition for Ethanol hailed the bill for its “significant provisions that recognize 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 researchers at US land-grant universities found that the government’s ethanol mandate has pushed farmers to plant more corn and use more water- and greenhouse-gas-spitting fertilizers. Overall, they found the push to use more ethanol likely elevated greenhouse gas emissions.

The law also boosts the fortunes of the ethanol industry by increasing a tax credit called 45Q — paid to farms that sequester carbon dioxide in the soil — from $50 per tonne of CO2 to $85 per ton. Like Clive Thompson in a Mother Jones Cover Story Over the past year, government-subsidized carbon capture risked turning into yet another taxpayer gift to established dirty industries — like oil, natural gas, coal and ethanol.

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