On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris communicated clear priorities to address the needs of agriculture and rural communities, including: strengthening regional food systems and anti-trust enforcement, expanding conservation programs with a focus on soil health and carbon sequestration, increasing microloans for beginning farmers, and advancing racial justice and accountability in USDA programs.
Just this week, Tom Vilsack was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as Secretary for the second time. A full Senate vote will happen in the coming days. During his hearing, Vilsack outlined four key areas of work: food security, climate, competition, and inequity.
These priorities mean a lot to the Land Stewardship Project, and it is time to call on our newly sworn-in leaders to make good on their promises. The Biden-Harris administration and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack can take swift and crucial action through USDA from day one to ensure that farmers and rural communities see the investment and structural reform we need to build healthy and resilient farm and food systems.
- Multinational corporations should be prohibited from accessing agriculture funding in pandemic relief packages to ensure that small to mid-scale farmers, processors, and businesses receive the full benefits of any response program.
- The federal government should prioritize protecting workers in meatpacking plants (and the rest of the food system) with enforceable workplace safety and health standards.
- Immediately reinstate the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration as a stand-alone agency within USDA.
- Immediately withdraw the 2020 version of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules and use the 2016 version of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules as the starting point for a new rulemaking process.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) should pause approval on new mergers of large agriculture, food processing, or food retailing companies to stem the tide of mega-mergers that have driven unprecedented consolidation in the food sector.
- The FTC and DOJ should use the evaluation of past mergers to guide efforts to break up merged companies that are found to use anti-competitive practices or that have excessive control of markets.
Support Small to Mid-scale Farmers & Regional Food Systems:
- Stop using taxpayer-funded conservation programs such as the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to give grants to CAFO operations to subsidize waste management practices they should have to pay for themselves.
- Stop providing USDA and Small Business Administration loan guarantees for new and expanding CAFO operations.
- Expand the microloan program for new and beginning farmers, doubling the maximum loan amount to $100,000.
Promote Soil-building Farming Solutions to the Climate Crisis:
- Rewrite the final Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) rule to reflect the Congressional mandate in the 2018 Farm Bill: to provide conservation assistance on a whole farm basis through payments for both active management and conservation improvements.
- Establish climate change mitigation and adaptation as a nationwide "Resource Concern" in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and CSP, and provide ranking and payment recognition for conservation activities that build soil health such as perennial plantings, diverse crop rotations, managed rotational grazing, reduced tillage, nutrient and manure management, and transition to organic production.
Promote Racial Justice in USDA Programs:
- Fund the Heirs Property Relending Program and immediately release the rules on the program for stakeholder feedback.
- Release updated demographic data (to the county level) for Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency programs and investigate offices with low enrollments of Black, Indigenous, or other farmers of color.
In this transitional moment, we need to make our voices heard.