OEFFA members know that healthy soil is foundational to sustainable agriculture. While healthy soil is the basis for healthy crops, animals and humans, decision makers at the statehouse overwhelmingly are not talking about this important issue.
That’s why OEFFA, the Ohio Soil Health Initiative and allies are urging decision makers to pass legislation that creates a Soil Health Task Force that includes public hearings and the creation of a proposed comprehensive soil health action plan within 1-year of establishing the task force.
Use the form below to send an email to your state Representative and ask them to join Representative Juanita Brent (D-12) and sponsor the bill to create a Soil Health Task Force in Ohio.
- Don’t include an introduction or sign off, those will automatically be included;
- Share why soil health is important;
- Keep it short and to the point; and
- Ask for a response and let us know what they say!
- The creation of a soil health task force, that includes public hearings, would create the appropriate planning that is needed to accelerate and coordinate the adoption of soil health practices.
- Healthy soils are a limited natural resource and fundamental for healthy and sustainable food production and for a resilient agriculture able to respond to a changing climate.
- Ohio is a leading agriculture state with productive soils and abundant water supplies, and a commitment to healthy and productive soils is critical to the future of agriculture.
- A comprehensive soil health action plan needs to be informed by farmers across the state. Public hearings are essential to creating a comprehensive plan for soil health that meets the needs of Ohio farmers.
- There are real and pressing opportunities for Ohio farmers to capitalize on the economic and production benefits of improved soil health and water quality. We can’t ignore this critical opportunity. A Soil Health Task Force charged with creating a comprehensive soil health action plan within one year, needs to be put in place now.
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) members know that healthy soil is foundational to sustainable agriculture. While healthy soil is the basis for healthy crops, animals and humans, decision makers at the statehouse overwhelmingly are not talking about this important issue.
We believe in an Ohio where farmers who are curious about experimenting with soil health are supported and farmers who are implementing soil health practices are recognized. That’s why OEFFA, the Ohio Soil Health Initiative and allies are urging decision makers to pass legislation that creates a Soil Health Task Force as a first step towards developing farmer informed solutions that support health soil principles and practices. This task force would allow Ohio farmers to educate decision makers about the challenges, opportunities and actions they want to see addressed at the statehouse.
Add your name in support below!
We the undersigned support the creation of a healthy soils task force by the Ohio Legislature that would:
- Consider the many benefits of soil health including but not limited to those identified by the Ohio Soil Health Initiative;
- Prioritize the experience and knowledge of farmers who are already implementing soil health practices in Ohio and farmers who want to improve soil health on their farms, specifically by holding public hearings; and
- Submit a comprehensive action plan, based on the knowledge of Ohio farmers amongst others, to the Governor, the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee, and the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee within one year of the creation of the task force.
Guest post from Jeff Schahczenski, National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Agricultural and Natural Resource Economist
Like many of our favorite movies, the sequel to the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program (CFAP 2) is an expansion and improvement of the original. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) began taking applications for CFAP 2 on September 21, 2020. The program will end on December 11, 2020. About $14 billion has been made available to fund this relief effort for U.S. agriculture producers impacted by COVID-19.
For Judy Owsowitz, owner and founder of Terrapin Farm in Whitefish, Montana, CFAP 2 is welcome help for the significant losses she experienced this year due to the pandemic. “I chose to not do farmers’ markets this year out of concern for my crew and the public. Many of my restaurants are also struggling. CFAP 2 has simplified access to pandemic relief,” Judy noted.
With a new category of relief payments known as sales commodities, hundreds of specialty crops, aquaculture, nursery crops, and floriculture items are eligible. Relief payments for this wide category of goods are calculated based on the producer’s 2019 sales of these eligible commodities and a declining payment rate that is roughly 10 percent of the value of those sales is provided. So, a farm with a 2019 gross sales revenue of, say, $125,000 would receive a relief payment of slightly more than $12,500. As gross sales increases, the percentage of relief decreases slightly to a bit less than 10 percent.
A highly diverse farm like Terrapin Farm with over 500 varieties of unique vegetables, fruits, and herbs, can simply report total sales revenue from 2019 as the basis of relief payment without having to list each product. “I tried to access CFAP 1 and it was just too burdensome to have to list each crop separately, particularly when the payment was so small for each crop,” said Judy. For CFAP 2, a producer only has to document the total sales of eligible crops in 2019 and an online calculator provided by the FSA will calculate the total relief payment, as well as generate part of the application paperwork.
The larger diversity of crops and livestock products covered by CFAP 2 is significant. In fact, the only items not eligible for relief under CFAP 2 are:
- Hay, except alfalfa, and crops intended for grazing
- All equine, animals raised for breeding stock, companion or comfort animals, pets, and animals raised for hunting or game purposes
- Birdsfoot and trefoil, clover, cover crop, fallow, forage soybeans, forage sorghum, gardens (commercial and home), grass, kochia (prostrata),
lespedeza, milkweed, mixed forage, pelts (excluding mink), perennial peanuts, pollinators, sun hemp, vetch, and seed of ineligible crops
In addition to sales commodities, there are two additional eligible ways to access CFAP 2 payments:
- Price Trigger Commodities: Barley, corn, sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers, upland cotton, and all classes of wheat; broilers; eggs and milk; beef cattle, hogs and pigs; and lambs and sheep. Relief payment is based on 2020 planted acres, yield, marketing percentage, and a specified payment rate.
- Flat-Rate Commodities: Alfalfa, amaranth grain, buckwheat, canola, Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton, crambe (colewort), einkorn, emmer, flax, guar, hemp, indigo, industrial rice, kenaf, khorasan, millet, mustard, oats, peanuts, quinoa, rapeseed, rice, sweet rice, wild rice, rye, safflower, sesame, spelt, sugar beets, sugarcane, teff, and triticale. Relief payment is simply $15 per 2020 planted acre.
The addition of the flat-rate commodities is significant, as these were not included in the original CFAP. Many of these flat-rate commodities, particularly some of the ancient grains such as amaranth, einkorn, emmer, flax an khorasan, and spelt, are grown organically, providing important support for organic grain farmers.
Even the Terrapin Farm logo of a turtle munching on a famously sweet Terrapin Farm carrot appears a bit happier, as she struggles through these difficult times. “It’s great to see our federal government become responsive and to recognize how important the full diversity of our local and regional food system really is,” Judy said.
For more details, see the USDA website.
Finally, a payment calculator tool is available that can help you assess whether the CFAP 2 makes sense for your specific situation.
ATTRA specialists are on hand to walk you through what you need to know to receive a share of this government assistance package. Give us a call at (800) 346-9140 or e-mail us at AskAnAg@ncat.org. We’re here for you!
A growing number of farmers are making the connection between more frequent, extreme weather events and the climate crisis.
Last year, OEFFA, as a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), began circulating a letter written by and for farmers: the Farmer and Rancher Letter on Climate Change and Agriculture. The letter expresses deep concerns about climate change impacts on U.S. agriculture and calls for solutions that invest in rural and agricultural communities.
As a result, more than 150 OEFFA farmers joined thousands more farmers from across the nation in a clarion call for investments in sustainable agriculture.
Agriculture is on the Front Line of the Climate Crisis
Agriculture is on the front lines of a changing climate with greater weather extremes, like flooding, drought, and heat waves, threatening workers, crops, and livestock. As temperatures continue to rise, new pest and disease pressures are impacting crop yields and quality. Farmers and ranchers are accustomed to adapting to change, but today’s weather extremes are unprecedented and threaten the future of farming.
Agriculture can be part of the solution to the climate crisis through increased investments in existing conservation practices and farm programs that make agriculture and rural communities more resilient. Good soil health practices like cover crops, crop rotation, improved grazing management, and reduced tillage can sequester much of the carbon contributing to climate change. These practices also help ensure farmers adapt to weather extremes by increasing the water holding capacity and water infiltration rates of the soil needed when there is a drought or flood. Sustainable and organic farmers reduce potent greenhouse gasses, like nitrous oxide, by reducing or eliminating the use of synthetic fertilizers.
Agricultural Resilience Act
Large-scale adoption of these practices will require significant investment to reduce the risk to producers as they shift to new climate-friendly practices. Technical assistance, financial incentives, and research are also key and are currently being advanced through H.R. 6851, the Agricultural Resilience Act (ARA).
The ARA offers a comprehensive set of farmer-driven solutions to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in U.S. agriculture by 2040 by setting a national goal and investing in research, soil health, farmland preservation, farm viability, pasture-based livestock, on -farm renewable energy, and reducing food loss and waste.
The only Ohio member of the U.S. House of Representative currently supporting the ARA is Congressman Tim Ryan (D-13). Contact OEFFA for information on your member of Congress and their position on this issue.
Farmers Share Stories with House Select Committee, Senator Brown
NSAC shared the Farmer and Rancher Letter on Climate Change and Agriculture to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on August 27. Signatories of the letter shared stories of how climate change affected their lives and spoke of their commitment to be part of the climate solution. They urged legislators to continue their work in Congress to support programs and increase conservation incentives to help others implement climate stewardship practices on their operations.
Following the delivery of the letter to these Congressional climate leaders, a handful of OEFFA farmers shared their climate concerns with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Chelsea Gandy and Jesse Rickard of Fox Hollow Farm, Mardy Townsend of Marshy Meadows Farm, Betsy Libby of Blackbird Meadows Farm, and Lauren Ketcham of Down the Road Farm joined OEFFA Policy Director, Amalie Lipstreu, Senator Brown, and two of his staffers, Jonathan McCracken and Ross Griffin, to talk about how climate is affecting their farm businesses.
While climate change may not be the term used by many farmers, the conversation made clear that most farmers in Ohio are experiencing extreme and damaging weather beyond the normal fluctuations faced over the decades. Even more pressing is the cost of these weather fluctuations on the farm business. Whether it is having one less cutting of hay, having to buy shorter season corn, or losing vegetable crops or livestock to extreme heat, these changes are real and affect the viability of farm businesses.
Be the Change
Thank you to our OEFFA farm leaders for speaking up to move our members of Congress to action on issues that affect farmers and food systems across the globe. If you are a farmer experiencing unprecedented weather impacts on your farm business, let us know. Even if you don’t farm, but feel this is an important issue, contact us today. We need your voice, more than ever.
OEFFA, the Ohio Farmers Market Network, Produce Perks Midwest, and the Ohio Food Policy Network released a new report, Opportunity in a Time of Crisis: Recommendations for Building a More Resilient Ohio Food System, which captures the landscape of small- to mid-scale agriculture in Ohio and how local and regional food systems were impacted by COVID-19.
While farmers and farmers’ markets have risen to the challenge posed by a national pandemic and disruptions in the global food supply chain and adapted their operations to feed Ohio families, those adaptations are not sustainable without state and federal leadership. Investment is needed to increase the resilience and stability of the food system. OEFFA and our partners offer eight recommendations to ensure we can better withstand future disruptions to the food system, increase access to healthy food, grow tax revenue, and enhance farm profitability.
While many have extolled the benefits and efficiency of a highly centralized global food supply chain, the pandemic has revealed that this efficiency also creates vulnerability. Farmers who relied on these centralized chains of distribution and marketing were affected as restaurant and institutional closures resulted in milk being dumped and crops being plowed under. The highly consolidated meat processing industry, largely operated by low-paid immigrant workers, became a vector for the virus which caused increased illness and death. Temporary closures left farmers with the horrible task of euthanizing animals.
These challenges highlighted what many have already know. A more distributed food system that includes a higher percentage of sales into local and regional markets, with more small- to mid-scale farms and processing facilities will make our communities more secure in the future. What many policy makers don’t often realize is the many co-benefits those investments would provide.
We often highlight the fact that food and agriculture is the leading industry sector in the state of Ohio. A large portion of the revenue and job creation in this industry comes from the processing and restaurant/retail sector. Increasing the number of meat processing plants that will help farmers who have to schedule the processing of their animals months in advance or be on a wait list, will not only help grow their businesses and bottom lines, but will create jobs in those communities and grow local tax revenue.
The same can be said for other sectors. The Ohio Farm to School Task Force has been meeting for years to increase the connection to healthy local food for Ohio’s children. One of the major stumbling blocks is that most school kitchens are built for heat and serve meals and do not have the facilities or labor to process fresh fruits and vegetables. Facilities that would do the minimal processing such as cleaning and cutting carrots and apples or flash freezing broccoli and peas so they would be available in the fall, winter, and spring of the school year, would open up new markets for Ohio farmers, increase student health, and create processing jobs.
Opportunity in a Time of Crisis recommendations detail concrete recommendations that could begin today to address both the need and opportunity revealed by the pandemic. Those recommendations include:
- Establishment of an inter-agency food work group to identify strategies to fund and build farmers’ market capacity including technical assistance and infrastructure development for online purchasing platforms for farmers’ markets, direct-to-consumer producers, and local retailers;
- Use that work group to also identify areas where creation of food preservation, processing, and distribution facilities are needed and how they can be financed;
- Pass the HEROES Act with aid for under-served farmers and those selling into local food systems;
- Pass the Family Farm ReGeneration Act (HB 183/SB 159) which supports land transfer to beginning farmers;
- Change state contract bidding requirements for local purchasing;
- Support online infrastructure development for SNAP nutrition incentive programming, like Produce Perks;
- Support the federal bill to Expand SNAP Options (S.4202); and
- Pass SB 121 which supports nutrition education.
Collectively these administrative, state, and federal policy actions require little to no immediate fiscal investment and will yield many benefits to Ohioans, not the least of which is to improve the stability of our food supply.
This blog is from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), written June 30 following the release of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis report and provides detailed analysis and resources on the recommendations in the report related to agriculture and related programs and legislation.
Major comprehensive federal legislation to deal with the global climate crisis is long overdue. While no bills are likely to become law this year, the time is ripe for piecing together the key components of a new law for consideration in the 117th Congress (2021-22). Even before next year, the House of Representatives will engage in a trial run, voting on climate-related bills yet this year, though with the knowledge the bills are unlikely to be considered in the Senate or become law.
While transportation, energy, and economic development generally get top billing in climate legislative discussions, food and agriculture has a major role to play in addressing climate disruption, as NSAC has stated in our Climate and Agriculture position paper, a farmer sign-on letter that is making the rounds, and in a new NSAC blog series on the Agriculture Resilience Act (HR 5861).
Farmers are on the front lines of climate disruption and can play a substantial role in providing climate solutions. From a farmer perspective, it is worth celebrating the inclusion of an agriculture chapter in the long-awaited action plan (one-pager of full report) of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis that was released today. Chaired by Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), the Select Committee was empaneled back in February 2019 to pull together this national plan of action.
The Select Committee’s action plan lays out the steps Congress needs to take to put the country on a path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The roadmap would kick start economic recovery by investing in clean energy and jobs that value workers. The report centers around 12 key pillars, including investing in clean energy infrastructure, transforming domestic manufacturing of clean energy technology, investing in workers and a fair economy, advancing environmental justice, protecting and restoring U.S. natural resources, and promoting climate-resilient agriculture.
The release of the Select Committee’s report was originally scheduled for late March but was delayed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. It is intended to serve as a template for eventual comprehensive legislation.
NSAC released a press comment on the report earlier today.
The agriculture section of the Select Committee’s report includes seven major components – increasing carbon sequestration and resilience, decreasing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, improving technical assistance and research, supporting on-farm renewable energy and energy efficiency, supporting the next generation of farmers, preserving farmland, and reducing food waste.
These topic headings line up very well with the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) introduced earlier this year by Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and endorsed by NSAC. In fact, the new report makes repeated references to the ARA legislation, a bill which puts into detailed legislative language many of the recommendations highlighted by the Select Committee. When it comes time for the Agriculture Committees of Congress to write their sections of comprehensive climate legislation or the climate-relevant sections of the next federal farm bill, the ARA will serve as a model to work from and further develop.
Highlights from among the scores of Select Committee agriculture recommendations follow. Provisions included in the ARA are denoted by an asterisk (*).
1. Increase Agricultural Carbon Sequestration and Resilience Through Climate Stewardship Practices
By providing financial and technical assistance for conservation tillage, cover crops, rotational grazing, resource-conserving crop rotations, perennials, advanced nutrient management, and agroforestry, Congress can help America’s farmers and ranchers implement climate stewardship practices while increasing profitability and making their farms more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Specific recommendations include:
- Greatly increase funding for working lands conservation programs, including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), adding climate adaptation and mitigation to each program’s purposes. *
- Restore automatic renewals under CSP to allow for continual improvement in farmers’ carbon sequestration efforts. *
- Direct the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to establish region-specific climate change mitigation bundles within CSP that include both soil health and emissions reduction practices.
- Increase funding for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, including Soil Health Demonstrations.*
- Increase conservation funding set asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. *
- Increase acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and administer the programs with an emphasis on climate benefits. *
- Require ACEP participants to complete and maintain a conservation plan, including climate benefits, with the option of automatic enrollment in conservation working lands programs. *
- Direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to target CRP and ACEP to areas at risk of conversion to non-agricultural uses as well as flood-prone lands, peatlands, or other areas where climate benefits are substantial.
- Create regional agroforestry centers to support silvopasture, alley cropping, and other excellent agroforestry systems to increase carbon sequestration and improve production. *
- Set national climate stewardship practice goals and direct USDA to update these goals at least every four years to restore and maximize soil carbon in working lands. *
- Improve conservation compliance enforcement and make ‘sodsaver rules’ apply nationwide. *
- Encourage cooperative agreements and data sharing between farmers and federal, state, and local agencies, land grant universities, nonprofits, agricultural retailers, and conservation organizations to coordinate and support the implementation of measuring, quantifying, evaluating, and reporting levels of carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission reductions on farms.
- Study the feasibility of developing a federal tax credit to incentivize carbon sequestration and abatement on farms. *
- Create a national organic agriculture transition program, including farmer-to-farmer mentorship opportunities, financial and technical assistance, and initiatives for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.
- Establish a state soil health grant program to provide states and tribes with funding for soil carbon sequestration programs. *
- Establish a new mechanism such as a “climate-based producer” certification to provide markets and incentives for improved climate stewardship, including auditing and certification services through USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
- Direct USDA to align conservation practices between NRCS programs and crop insurance programs and provide crop insurance premium discounts for farmers who use risk-reducing, climate-friendly farming practices. *
- Increase outreach and incentives for Whole Farm Revenue Protection insurance to encourage diversification.
2. Reduce Agricultural Emissions
Climate stewardship farming practices, including improved nutrient management and rotational grazing, can help reduce the nearly 10 percent of U.S. emissions that stem from agriculture. Specific recommendations include:
- Increase financial incentives to improve nutrient management through EQIP, RCPP, and CSP.
- Expand research, development, and deployment of precision agriculture technologies to apply fertilizer more efficiently and invest in rural broadband to support these technologies.
- Provide technical and financial assistance for farmers to adopt alternatives to synthetic fertilizer, such as crop rotation, cover cropping, and the use of non-synthetic fertilizers such as compost.
- Create an alternative manure management program to provide grants to farmers for non-digester manure and methane management strategies to reduce emissions, including conversion of non-pasture dairy and livestock operations to pasture-based management and alternative manure treatment and storage practices. *
- Provide funding for the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative and amend the program purpose to add soil health and grazing system resilience. *
- Provide support for producers transitioning from confinement and feedlot systems or continuous grazing to managed grazing-based systems and require a significant portion of EQIP funding spent on livestock go toward climate-smart grazing systems. *
- Increase research and development to examine different feeds and feed additives and their impact on methane emissions from enteric fermentation.
3. Increase Federal Capacity to Provide Technical Assistance to Farmers
USDA, land grant universities and extension, and non-governmental organizations (NGO) and retailers should collaborate to provide farmers and ranchers with technical assistance to increase adoption of climate stewardship practices. Specific recommendations include:
- Significantly increase support for the NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance program and increase technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as research and deployment of agricultural climate solutions. *
- Support public-private partnerships to facilitate adoption of climate stewardship practices.
- Prioritize climate-specific research within competitive grant research programs. *
- Authorize the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Long-Term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Network and make climate research a priority. *
- Facilitate farmer-to-farmer education and outreach programs on climate practices. *
- Authorize and increase funding and staffing for the regional USDA Climate Hubs. *
- Increase funding to develop seeds, trees, and animal breeds adapted to climate change, accounting for regional differences, and establish a USDA Public Breed and Cultivar Research Activities Coordinator. *
4. Support On-Farm Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
Farmers can reduce emissions, reduce costs, and earn more through energy efficiency improvements and the production of on-farm renewable energy. Specific recommendations include:
- Significantly increase funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), adding greenhouse gas pollution reduction to the program’s purpose and prioritizing projects that achieve the largest net decrease in emissions. *
- Direct USDA to study dual-use energy systems and establish a program to provide education, outreach, and technical assistance for farmers to integrate renewable energy projects on land shared with crops or livestock. *
5. Support the Next Generation of Farmers to Create a Fair and Equitable Food System
With over 370 million acres changing hands in the next 15 years, the nation has an opportunity for the transition to prioritize climate stewardship in all communities. Specific recommendations include:
- Provide support for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers to undertake climate-friendly farming, including –
- Increasing funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers (Section 2501).
- Make government-owned farmland available as incubator farms.
- Provide a farmer tax credit for taxpayers who sell farming property to new, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers, and tax credits for new and beginning farmers who purchase agricultural property. *
- Establish a federally-backed land trust to buy land from retiring farmers and sell it interest-free to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.
- Ensure that tribes have fair and equitable access to, as well as representation and participation in, all climate stewardship initiatives, programs, and funding in which states, local governments, and other interested entities can participate.
- Engage with and support environmental justice communities on climate stewardship practices, programs, and policies.
6. Preserve Farmland From Development
Saving farmland results in multiple benefits – reducing emissions from development, retaining opportunities for carbon sequestration, and reducing pressure to put more marginal lands into production with all its attendant carbon loss. Specific recommendations include:
- Increasing funding for ACEP and CRP, including for farmland preservation, wetland restoration, and restoring cropland to grassland where there is high carbon sequestration potential. *
- Prevent the federal conversion of farmland by limiting conversion of productive farm and ranch land by federal agencies or by projects using federal funds. *
7. Reduce Food Waste and Transportation
In the U.S., 30 to 40 percent of food goes uneaten through loss or waste, increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the process. More regional food systems have the potential to reduce transportation and energy use.Specific recommendations include:
- Increase funding for the Farm to School Program and modify requirements for the national school meal and child nutrition programs to allow schools to use locally grown as a product specification in food procurement.
- Increase funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) and create a new grant opportunity to support efforts to develop markets and processing infrastructure for commodities and farm products that improve soil health and carbon sequestration. *
- Increase support and investments in initiatives to reduce food waste at the consumer level, on the farm, in grocery stores and restaurants, in schools, throughout the government, and in landfills. *
The recommendations of the Select Committee will be debated in Congress and help focus attention on practical steps that can be taken at the federal level to combat the climate crisis. The House will be taking up a major infrastructure measure that includes a wide variety of green energy and transportation provisions in the coming weeks. Later, it may turn to additional climate-related legislation. However, little Senate action, if any, is expected this year. From here on out, most of the attention will be focused on the November elections.
What comes afterward remains to be seen, but the prospects for comprehensive climate legislation may improve, and if so, the new report will provide important template for legislative efforts, which will hopefully include a major agriculture title.
Add to that prospect the scheduled rewrite of federal food and farm programs as part of the 2023 Farm Bill, with increasing talk about the possibility of the new farm bill happening sooner than that.
Regardless of the specific timing, Congress may well have at least two major opportunities – a comprehensive climate bill and the next farm bill – to re-orient federal farm programs toward much greater support for climate-resilient conservation farming and away from subsidies that foster overproduction, specialization, consolidation and even greater climate disruption. The agriculture section of the report of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis begins to provide some clues as to what that may entail, and is therefore an important contribution to the ongoing effort to create policies to support a more sustainable and regenerative agriculture.
Understanding voluntary private carbon markets can be confusing.
Will selling carbon credits generated by farmers help mitigate climate change? Will new legislation creating a certification program for carbon markets solve existing problems and confusion?
Thankfully, one of our partner organizations in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has some answers. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) works locally and globally on fair and sustainable food, farm, and trade systems and IATP’s Tara Ritter wrote the article below to help us understand this complicated issue.
With Tara’s permission we are republishing her blog post about carbon markets and a new bill called the “Growing Climate Solutions Act.”
Senate Climate Bill Prioritizes Markets Over the Climate
By Tara Ritter
Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) introduced the Growing Climate Solutions Act, a bill that would create a certification program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to facilitate farmer participation in voluntary carbon markets. Although farmers should be incentivized to adopt practices that boost resilience and sequester carbon, carbon markets have a failed and wasteful track record compared to public investments in proven conservation programs. This bill would tee up a framework incentivizing false solutions to climate change that benefits private companies over farmers.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act is designed to help farmers overcome barriers to participation in voluntary carbon markets. It would do this by establishing a USDA certification for third-party verifiers, which would include standards for measurement, verification, monitoring, and reporting. It would also create an online “one stop shop” to provide information for interested farmers, offer explanations on how to get started with generating carbon credits and connect farmers with USDA-certified entities to provide technical assistance. The bill also contains provisions to keep USDA up-to-speed on the rapidly-expanding landscape of carbon markets.
Voluntary carbon markets are privately-run schemes that pay farmers for carbon sequestered in their soils to generate carbon credits. Then, the company running the carbon market sells those credits to other companies or individuals interested in reducing their carbon footprint. Companies such as Indigo Ag and Nori are starting up voluntary carbon markets, claiming that they will increase farm profits while addressing climate change, all without imposing government regulations on farmers. Yet, Indigo Ag also plans to sell farmers proprietary seed coatings and collect farm data, raising questions of who will benefit most. Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest backers of these schemes are large agribusiness companies, including ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and more, that will be able to generate, buy, and sell carbon credits to boost their profits and greenwash their own operations.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act sets up a weak verification system for the markets. The system relies on third-party entities to both provide technical assistance and verify the carbon credits. Allowing an entity to both consult on best practices and certify adherence to those practices could lead to conflicts of interest. In addition, verifying entities may self-register in the program simply by notifying USDA that they will “maintain expertise in and adhere to the standards published.” This type of self-reporting will almost certainly be abused, and without strict enforcement it will weaken the results of already flawed carbon markets. The bill states that USDA will periodically conduct audits of the verifiers, although the bill does not say how often or rigorously these audits will happen, and the penalty for noncompliance is simply “equal to such amount as the Secretary determines to be appropriate.”
In addition to weaknesses around verification, carbon markets do not effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and should not be supported by policy. Soil carbon storage is extremely impermanent; any carbon sequestered in the soil can be released with a change in land management practices or through severe weather events. Since voluntary carbon markets do not require farmers to engage in conservation activities permanently, carbon credits cannot serve as a permanent offset for emissions elsewhere. Furthermore, the tools to measure soil carbon to the degree of accuracy and reliability that a market would require do not currently exist. The Growing Climate Solutions Act attempts to standardize measurement across carbon markets, but without certainty that the measurements used are accurate, quantifying soil carbon is a guessing game and does not guarantee actual emissions reductions.
Despite claims that voluntary carbon markets will incentivize climate-friendly agriculture, paying farmers for soil carbon offsets treats agricultural land narrowly as a carbon sink. Production for local food systems becomes a secondary function of farmland, bringing with it a range of social, economic, and food justice concerns. Agriculture should be viewed holistically; there are multiple benefits of a climate-friendly agricultural system, including healthier soils, clean water, wildlife habitat, and farm resilience to drought and flooding. Integrated systems of practices based on agroecology have the greatest potential to build resilience in the face of climate change, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and sequester carbon in the soil. Practices designed narrowly to generate carbon credits will not lead to comprehensive, systems-based changes.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, agricultural consolidation has led to weaknesses in the supply chain and a food system that’s unable to withstand disruptions. Climate solutions for agriculture must address and lessen corporate concentration in the agriculture sector. However, offset projects work best for large-scale farms that have the economies of scale to implement practices on enough land to actually profit from generating carbon credits. This raises concerns that carbon markets will contribute to further consolidation of agricultural land and disadvantage small to mid-sized farmers.
Today’s downturned farm economy has left farmers struggling to hold onto their operations. There’s an urgent need to reward farmers for practices that address climate change while increasing their operations’ resilience to climate change. However, successful and stable approaches cannot be linked to dysfunctional and volatile markets. Instead, predictable public funding can support farmers to implement conservation practices for the long term. Federal programs including the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program are examples of such funding sources. These programs are routinely over-enrolled and require additional funding to meet the demand of farmers. In addition, some states have created their own programs to address these challenges, including the cover crop program through the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the California Healthy Soils Program. These types of approaches should be expanded and strengthened to build forward-thinking public investment in a decentralized and resilient agricultural system.
There are better bills on the table to meet the goals of maximizing soil carbon sequestration and reducing emissions from agriculture, including Representative Chellie Pingree’s (D-ME) Agriculture Resilience Act and Senator Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) Climate Stewardship Act. To support farmers while meeting the urgency of the climate crisis, Congress should take proactive efforts to scale up public resources for conservation practices while enacting common sense checks on corporate concentration in the agriculture sector.
While the highly consolidated global food supply chain has broken under the pressure of the COVID-19 crisis, our diverse and distributed local and regional food system has proven more resilient. Many OEFFA farmers have been able to adapt to the market disruptions that occurred as restaurants and schools closed, by pivoting to other strategies like online pre-ordering and taking advantage of strong customer demand. Farmers’ markets moved quickly to adapt to the new reality of social distancing by implementing drive-thru markets, online ordering systems, and other market modifications.
While these adaptations helped keep local food flowing, they did not come without cost, both financial and human. These changes included things such as recruiting and training more staff and volunteers, reducing the number of vendors at markets, purchasing personal protective equipment, setting up and managing new software for online ordering, and instituting new packaging and labeling requirements.
The local food heroes whose herculean efforts have kept our families fed during this crisis have borne the cost of these adaptations with little to no federal or state support, while the nation’s largest agribusinesses have benefited disproportionately from federal aid packages.
Farmer Assistance to Date
The federal government passed three large aid packages totaling in the trillions aimed at lessening the impact of the pandemic on our society. The third aid bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, with a price tag of $2.2 trillion, is the largest economic rescue package in U.S. history and included provisions targeting farmers and food insecurity. Unfortunately, despite a provision creating $9.5 billion in disaster relief targeted to specialty crop, livestock and dairy producers, and farmers growing for direct markets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture chose to ignore Congressional emphasis that the agency support these farmers.
The resulting Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), with $16 billion in funding, is helpful to farm operations with simple production systems, who can demonstrate a loss in price or sales this year, and who sell into commodity and wholesale markets. As with most federal policy, CFAP fails to help diversified farmers who sell into local and regional markets and value-added producers such as organic farmers, and grass-fed livestock operations. Only 2 percent of the CFAP payments to date have made to U.S. specialty crop farmers.
The Farm Service Agency is accepting applications for CFAP on a first-come, first-served basis. Despite the program’s limitations, we encourage farmers to look at the application to decide if it may be worthwhile and if so, to apply soon. You can find details here. Initial program assessment shows that grain and dairy operators (organic or not) will particularly benefit. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s May 22 blog is a good guide. If you need assistance in applying, contact OEFFA. If you’ve already applied, please let us know about your experience.
A Fourth Round of Aid
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act which, if signed into law, would be the fourth aid package since the start of the pandemic. The $3 trillion bill would build on the CARES Act and include increased funding for local food, beginning farmers, and specialty crop growers, as well as another $16 billion in direct relief for farmers, this time including organic farmers and others not supported in prior aid packages.
Despite the inclusion of financial assistance targeted—once again—toward small to mid-scale, diversified, and value-added farmers, we need to make sure that the USDA doesn’t—once again—choose to target that aid to larger-scale commodity producers.
The HEROES Act will also increase food assistance and provide $25 million to help states cover the cost of harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting commodities that would have gone into large-scale commercial food service in order to shift these products into emergency feeding programs. However, that provision is lacking in several critical elements including language to target or prioritize resources to small farmers and those selling into local food systems. Additionally, funds cannot be used directly for purchasing farm products.
While Senate leaders initially put the brakes on additional stimulus, and the President threatened a veto, there are signs a fourth aid package will move forward.
In the interim period, many members of Congress have stepped in with legislation that would fill some of the gaps resulting from the limited focus of the prior omnibus bills. Numerous bills are being introduced to “set the mark” for inclusion in the HEROES Act, including:
- Farmers Feeding Families Coronavirus Response Act: Introduced by Representative Kim Schrier (D-WA) (HR 6725) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) (SB 3655), this bill would target federal funding for purchases from producers who rely on local agricultural markets (such as farmers’ markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and farm-to-school programs), provide funding for state agencies and food banks to directly and immediately replenish their food stocks to meet increased demand, and allow states to support farmers that may not normally participate in the USDA’s national purchase programs by purchasing surplus perishable foods at risk of going to waste.
- Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act: Introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (SB 3602) and Representative Patrick Maloney (D-NY) (HR 6683), this bill would alleviate debt, keep farms open, and fortify the nation’s food supply, providing direct relief to the nation’s most vulnerable farmers by providing a one-time debt forgiveness of up to $250,000, across three types of USDA Farm Service Agency loans. All small farms with an average adjusted gross income of up to $300,000 for the previous five years will be eligible, and, importantly, farmers who receive debt forgiveness or write-downs maintain their eligibility for future loans. Loan forgiveness would NOT be taxable.
- Food Supply Protection Act: Introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) this bill would strengthen food partnerships to prevent waste and feed families, retool small and medium-sized food processors, and support food banks and non-profits to help increase their capacity to address growing food demand. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
- SNAP Online Expansion and Delivery Act: Introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) this bill would help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work better by allowing benefits to be used online across the country, while also providing information technology investments and technical assistance resources to ensure all authorized retailers, including direct market farmers, have the infrastructure necessary for online transactions.
Next Steps and Opportunity for Action
Over the coming days and weeks the Senate will come to some resolution about what they want to see in a fourth coronavirus aid package. If we don’t put serious pressure on our elected officials to provide more oversight and accountability on the use of these funds, we will continue to see the playing field be tilted toward the largest and wealthiest farms.
Do you think it’s time for federal policy to support those who need it most? Contact Amalie Lipstreu at (614) 947-1607 or firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts.
Photo: Lisa Helm Hancock, Dayton Urban Grown
One day each year is designated for us to offer some reverence for the Earth.
April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a tradition started in 1970 in response to oil spills, air pollution, and water contamination so bad the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. Cleveland became a poster child for the need to take environmental action to protect the soil that feeds us, the water we drink, and the air we breathe, helping to pave the way for the Clean Air and Water Acts and the Endangered Species Act.
The need for action was clear to Michelle Ajamian, co-owner of Shagbark Seed and Mill. “When I was growing up in New York City, the afternoon roads were so thick with traffic and smog , it burned our eyes and made us cough. The beaches had raw sewage riding in the waves.”
Earth day celebrations this year will certainly be different from years past, as a virus wreaks havoc on the world. Many of us are still under a “stay at home” order. If we are lucky, we’re safe, our families and friends are safe, and we’re working from home. But more than 22 million Americans are unemployed and tens of thousands have lost their lives.
But with our society’s vulnerabilities laid bare, perhaps now, it is more important than ever to examine the frailty of our food system and the many other crises we face by not thinking more about the Earth every day of the year.
Beneath every Midwestern farm, the soil offers wonderful opportunities to solve many of the challenges we face, including increasingly erratic weather patterns caused by climate change. NASA’s Global Time Machine offers a perfect illustration of our warming planet leading to weather patterns like those that caused massive flooding for farmers throughout the Midwest just last year.
According to Scott Myers of Woodlyn Acres in Dalton, Ohio, “Farmers talk about what normal weather is and I think the new normal for farmers when it comes to climate and the weather is constant change.”
The wet spring of 2019 is being called “the new normal” by climate experts as well.
Yet, by increasing soil organic carbon, farmers can help the climate, grow their bottom lines, and develop resilience to the impacts of extreme weather.
Midwestern soils lost a net 3.5 billion tons of carbon between 1850 and 2015. That loss accelerated with decades of corporate special interest influence on federal farm policy that has ignored life-building soil practices and favored mono-culture corn-soybean systems.
Helping farmers, who manage one-fifth of U.S. land, reverse this trend, improve soil health, and increase soil organic matter on their farms is essential to the future of our food system and our planet.
Using integrated soil health practices like continuous living cover, multi-species cover crops, longer crop rotations with small grains and perennials, agroforestry, and well-managed livestock grazing, organic and regenerative farms across the Midwest have already become net carbon sinks.
In addition, these climate solutions offer multiple yield benefits to our farms, communities, and environment including stabilized crop yields, reduced nutrient and soil runoff (which leads to cleaner drinking water), and increased per-acre profitability.
Organic and sustainable farmers are leading the way forward, but our policy makers need to catch up. Encouraging farmer leader innovation takes deliberate and significant investment. It is imperative that we reduce the risk to farmers as they shift to new, climate-friendly agricultural practices that build soil health by investing in relevant technical assistance, financial incentives, and research—including support for transition to organic systems, where Ohio is a national leader.
These are not pie in the sky ideas, but tangible solutions that are being used successfully and can be adopted by more farmers with support. The new Ohio Healthy Soils Initiative is working to help Ohio policy makers act on this opportunity, but we won’t succeed without your help.
If you are a farmer implementing these practices, a farmer interested in learning about how you can do more, or an educator, health care provider, or climate advocate, please join the growing number of people who have stepped up to say we can do more. With your help, we can make a difference here in Ohio, throughout the Midwest, and around the world.
Please contact us today to learn more and let’s celebrate keeping the Earth vibrant and healthy for the next 50 years!
UPDATE: Since this article was originally published, the initial round of PPP funding under the CARES Act has been exhausted, but small farms can apply for another set of federal disaster loans under a new deal reached April 21 by Congress and the Trump Administration. The agreement allows agricultural operations with fewer than 500 employees to qualify for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which offers up to $10,000 in advance to businesses that are losing revenue amid the pandemic. Learn more and apply for EIDL. The deal also replenishes the depleted PPP, setting aside an additional $321 billion for the program, including $60 billion for small businesses without access to large financial institutions, but funding is not expected to last long, maybe just a matter of days.
The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc, not only on human health, but also on our economy. And farmers are not being spared. The good news is that there are some tools out there to help.
Three disaster aid packages have been developed as of this writing and more are in the works. In this post, we will do our best to break down the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This is one of two programs included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for small businesses, and the only one available to farmers.
The CARES Act expands the PPP, which is administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), to provide much needed relief for small businesses, many of whom have temporarily closed their doors due to shelter in place and social-distancing directives. Congress allocated $349 billion to the PPP, which provides forgivable loans of up to $10 million to help businesses (including farm businesses) rehire or retain workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
The general rule is that this program is open to businesses (S-corps, C-corps, sole proprietorships, LLCs, and partnerships) with 500 employees or less. In determining “head count,” these business should include all employees (full or part-time and seasonal), but not independent contractors or volunteers.
The program is also open to self-employed individuals and contractors, who can apply for themselves.
SBA also requires that farms and agricultural businesses first explore Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan programs, particularly if the applicant has a prior or existing relationship with FSA. For more information about FSA loans and policies, check out USDA’s Farm Loan Compass.
Use of Funds
The loans can be used to cover payroll, paid sick leave or medical leave, insurance premiums, rent costs, mortgage interest, and interest on debt obligations incurred before February 15, 2020. The stated intent of the program is to “provide relief to American small businesses and keep workers paid and employed.”
How to Apply
The loans are processed through “SBA approved lenders.” If you don’t have a lender, SBA has a program called Lender Match, which allows applicants to find approved lenders by state. Those businesses that apply need to certify that the current economic uncertainty makes the loan request necessary to support ongoing operations.
To begin preparing your application, you can download a copy of the PPP borrower application form to see the information that will be requested from you when you apply with a lender.
These loans are on a first-come, first-served basis, so we recommend applying as soon as you can.
The loan may be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. At least 75 percent of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll. Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required. Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees.
Loan forgiveness is not automatic or guaranteed. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. The loan can be forgiven if employees are kept on payroll for eight weeks and the loan is used as intended. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease. This loan has a maturity of 2 years and an interest rate of 1 percent.
Farmers will want to evaluate all options available to them to see if PPP loans make the most sense for their operations. For example, small farms who have very few employees and associated payroll may not receive significant benefit from PPP loans.
Also, the demand for the program has been so high that few businesses have been able to have their loans processed. Congress tried to allocate more than $200 billion additional to the program unsuccessfully last week, but is likely to add more resources to this program soon.
Taking Action for the Future
It is important to ensure that as programs—like PPP and the $9.5 billion allocated to the Commodity Credit Corporation—are implemented for the express purpose of assisting farmers and small businesses, that Congress hears from farmers that need this assistance the most.
If you operate without a safety net like subsidized crop insurance, Title One commodity supports, or Market Facilitation Payments, please contact your members of Congress to ensure they are thinking about you when future decisions are made.
You can call the U.S. capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Their aides compile the number and types of calls received and this DOES impact legislation and appropriation of resources.
If you apply for PPP, or contact your member of Congress, send us a note describing your experience so that we can represent your concerns in our advocacy work and ensure the process is transparent and accountable to taxpayers.