On February 7th, 2014, President Barack Obama approved a new agricultural policy through the passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014, a multiyear plan that addresses issues such as food stamps, crop assistance and insurance, and environmental protection. Also known as the “farm bill”, the resolution is an important piece of legislation that comes after three years of gridlock and debate within Congress.
Of the $956.4 billion bill, nearly $846 billion will go to nutrition and crop assistance programs, while $881 million is mandated (and a total $1.12 billion available) for the Energy Title. These numbers are a dramatic increase from the 2008 farm bill, in which $240 million in funding was allocated for renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.
The biomass industry will benefit most from this mandatory funding, and will receive $530 million for various programs including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels (BCAP). The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) will receive $250 million of this funding to provide loan guarantees and to fund 25% of rural energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades. These subsidies are intended to provide parity for biofuels and to create jobs throughout the biomass sector.
Though the bill does not explicitly address the fact that agricultural practices cause one-third of all carbon pollution in the United States, the National Wildlife Foundation praised the bill for its strong conservation measures. $57.6 billion will be spent on conservation programs, and a new provision mandates that insurance subsidies be dependent on compliance with conservation standards. This is critical feature of the bill, as conservation compliance requirements were previously tied to the controversial direct payments system, which has been eliminated in the 2014 bill.
The passage of the long-awaited farm bill will have differential effects on people in both the agricultural and urban areas across the country. While the bill intends to boost the rural economy through providing jobs to rural America, the bill also proposes to cut over $20 billion from total farm bill spending, including $8 billion in cuts to the food stamp program. Though many proponents note that the bill is less than ideal, the funding mandates included in the energy title will open an opportunity for continued evolution in the renewable energy sector.