Payments for Pollution: How federal conservation programs can better benefit farmers and the environment

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In IATP’s 2021 report Closed out: How U.S. farmers are denied access to conservation programs, we showed that for years, farmers have been turned away from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) two flagship conservation payment programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Between 2010 and 2020, only 42% of CSP applicants and 31% of EQIP applicants were awarded contracts.1

This new report examines how EQIP in particular pays for agricultural practices that are not environmentally beneficial or in some cases actively make the environment worse. Specifically, this report examines the implementation of the program in the 12 states most frequently classified as “The Midwest:” Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.

We look at 2020 USDA data by state, analyzing number of contracts awarded, dollar amounts awarded and which practices are most popular. We also incorporate data gathered by others examining whether or not EQIP serves farmers of color well.

This report finds that current resources are being misdirected to large, polluting operations while thousands of farmers are being turned away from contracts that could help them pay for conservation improvements and help their bottom lines. Reforms are needed to ensure that EQIP funds only go toward truly environmentally beneficial practices. USDA can better allocate finite resources to those who need it most, including those who integrate more climate friendly, agroecological practices and systems.

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