As we reach the Biden Administration’s first 100 days in office, the Land Stewardship Project has been busy on the federal policy front. The role of agriculture in mitigating the climate crisis has been one focus of both the Administration and the new Congress. Over 500 LSP members and supporters signed on to our public comment on climate policy that was submitted to USDA, and LSP organized a series of virtual fly-ins to advocate for our priorities with members of Congress.
Federal Virtual Fly-in Recap
Over the past two weeks, 19 Land Stewardship Project farmer-members participated in a series of virtual fly-ins with all five members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation who serve on Agriculture Committees: U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and U.S. Representatives Angie Craig, Michelle Fischbach, and Jim Hagedorn. LSP coordinated this effort with coalition partners across the Midwest and country, including the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).
Given the federal focus on climate and infrastructure policy, LSP members advocated for our Ag Committee members to be champions in bringing climate funding to our farmers and rural communities. Status quo agriculture policy isn’t working for small to mid-scale farmers or the climate, but we have an opportunity here to invest in what does work. It makes sense for public money to go toward the public good, investing in a farm and food system that builds soil health while strengthening local economies.
Consolidation in agriculture has led to disinvestment of rural communities, as well as supply chain breakdowns during a global pandemic. Climate policy must not continue that trend. We reject false solutions to the climate crisis that prop up a failing system, and instead advocate for local, resilient food systems that create more land access for beginning farmers, build local economies and food security, and protect air, water, and climate for future generations.
Climate Policy We Need
Small to mid-scale farmers employing regenerative practices can mitigate the worst climate change impacts through practices like no-till and cover cropping, and can sequester carbon via perennial crops and managed rotational grazing systems. In order to make this possible at landscape scale, we must improve and expand access to conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Currently, two-thirds of CSP and EQIP applicants in Minnesota are turned away each year due to lack of funds. Beginning farmers and farmers of color are at the forefront of employing regenerative farming practices, but may lack the capital to get started. Investing in regenerative food systems is smart policy.
"We need to stop investing in systems that don't work and start investing in the ones that do, if we want to make a difference in soil health, climate change, and improved rural economies."
— Jon Jovaag, grazing livestock & crop farmer, Austin, Minn.
That’s why LSP supports the Agriculture Resilience Act, a bill recently introduced by U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (ME) and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (NM). This bill:
- expands investment in conservation programs like CSP and EQIP
- provides soil health grants to states
- includes set asides for beginning and BIPOC farmers and ranchers
- promotes a transition to managed rotational grazing
- expands local animal processing infrastructure
- invests in developing local markets to support products that improve soil health
LSP members asked all five Ag Committee members to co-sponsor the Agriculture Resilience Act and to champion the bill’s inclusion in the American Jobs Plan. The soil, local processing capacity, and local markets are crucial aspects of rural infrastructure.
Climate Policy We Do Not Need
Factory farms are a cause of climate change, and they should not be considered part of the solution. They require huge quantities of feed, water, and chemical inputs, as well as energy, and they manage manure in a way that increases greenhouse gas emissions. Methane digesters are an expensive, dangerous, and inefficient way to hang on to a failed system. Public initiatives like EQIP should not be used to prop up factory farms and make it harder for small to mid-scale farmers doing right by the environment and their communities to compete.
Private carbon markets have also created a buzz, yet they are just another way to suck money out of rural communities and into the hands of brokers and big business. The industrial food system will never be a carbon sink, and should not act as an offset market for fossil fuel polluters. Carbon markets serve as greenwashing to allow polluters off the hook for their emissions. Historically, they have failed to offer a stable price to farmers and can be difficult for smaller operations to access, creating more inequities. The climate crisis demands transformational action, and this is not it.
"We need to pull back the curtain and see carbon markets for what they are: a false game that allows companies to continue to pollute. Instead, ag leaders should support and increase participation in the CSP program. This spring, we were told we cannot sign up for a contract for two years due to lack of funding. Expanding a proven program like CSP would benefit farmers and society."
— Bonnie Haugen, grazing dairy farmer, Canton, Minn.
LSP members advocated for payment limits in federal programs to prevent further consolidation. They shared opposition to investing in factory farms and opposed carbon markets as the wrong direction for climate policy.
Since then, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith have co-sponsored the Growing Climate Solutions Act, a bill that creates a framework for USDA involvement in certifying third parties to verify carbon credits. LSP opposes this approach because it is bad for the climate, bad for small to mid-scale farmers, and bad for communities where concentrated pollution continues to harm public health. Government should regulate polluters, not provide a loophole for ongoing climate destruction.
Climate Policy & Rural Infrastructure
The next major legislation to come out of Congress will be an infrastructure bill, currently being referred to as the American Jobs Plan. Given the breakdown in the food system resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial that this infrastructure bill address the needs of farm and food system supply chains. Components of the Agriculture Resilience Act referenced above address farm-to-table infrastructure from building soil health to local processing and market development.
In addition, LSP supports the Strengthening Local Processing Act, introduced by U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (ME) and U.S. Senator John Thune (SD), which focuses on local animal processing. This bill:
- helps small plants meet state and federal inspection guidelines
- creates a new grant program for small plants, including new plants, to expand processing capacity
- creates animal processing training program grants
"Farmers are caretakers and entrepreneurs who mitigate a staggering array of risks, choosing carefully where to invest our limited resources. Without processors nearby to take livestock from our farm on to consumers, right-sized operations like ours can’t provide healthy food for our communities."
— Dana Seifert, grazing livestock & crop farmer, Jordan, Minn.
Rural investment must be prioritized in the American Jobs Plan. Corporate control of wealth has created an untenable situation for farmers and other rural community members for too long. What is good for the climate and the environment is also good for local economies and community food security. It is time for our legislators to enact policy that benefits us.
LSP members thanked U.S. Senator Tina Smith and U.S. Representative Angie Craig for co-sponsoring the Strengthening Local Processing Act. We appreciate their leadership! All other Ag Committee members were asked to join their colleagues in supporting this bill.
The Other Ask
In addition, LSP members advocated for the inclusion of both the Agriculture Resilience Act and the Strengthening Local Processing Act in any forthcoming infrastructure bill, such as the American Jobs Plan.
What You can do to Help
If you feel inspired to take action, let your Congressional representatives know that you want them to champion the Agriculture Resilience Act and the Strengthening Local Processing Act, and that we need to see these rural investments now in any forthcoming infrastructure bill. Find your members of Congress here!
Stay tuned for updates on federal policy, action from our Ag Committee members, and more ways for you to get involved.
LSP federal policy organizer Jessica Kochick can be reached via e-mail or at 612-400-6349.