• Farm Bill,  Genetic Engineering

    Corn Imperialism: What U.S. Mexico Trade Policy Tells Us About the Need to Transform American Agriculture

    Seeds are Storytellers

    A single kernel of corn contains the genetic story of how its ancestor plants adapted and survived. It tells the story of the humans who tended those plants over millennia, selecting varieties that could thrive in poor soils and in the face of drought.

    In Mexico, the birthplace of corn, indigenous communities have created hundreds of varieties of seed, each with its own surprising storyline. For example, one variety of corn which has long been stewarded by the Mixe people of Oaxaca was recently found to fix its own nitrogen. This unexpected discovery, which could potentially contribute to the fight against climate change, reinforces the importance of the link between biodiversity and indigenous and local seed stewardship.

    U.S. Trade Policy and Genetic Engineering Threaten Local Seed Sovereignty

    U.S. trade policy corn sprayed with glyphosate

    Unfortunately, developments in U.S. trade policy since the 1990’s have weakened, rather than supported, indigenous peoples in Mexico and local communities in the United States.

    Prior to the free trade agreements of the early 1990’s, Mexico was self-sufficient in corn production for human consumption, and relied primarily on sorghum for animal feed.

    But a flood of cheap, subsidized corn from the United States made it impossible for local producers to compete, resulting in an increased dependency on imports for livestock feed, and a decrease in production of local varieties.

    This situation was further complicated in the late 1990’s by the introduction of genetically modified (GM) seed, which was soon found to have contaminated native corn varieties.

    To protect both human health and genetic diversity, the Mexican government put a moratorium on the use of GM seed in 1998. In 2020, they issued a decree banning imports of GM corn and in 2024 they banned the herbicide glyphosate.

    In response, the United States has threatened action against Mexico, stating that the ban would cause economic loss and affect bilateral trade.

    U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasized “in no uncertain terms that — absent acceptable resolution of the issue — the U.S. government would be forced to consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce our legal rights” under the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement.

    In response to this pressure, Mexico announced that it would extend the start date for the ban to 2025 and that it was working on a proposal to overhaul its plan.

    Ending Corn Imperialism and Transforming American Agriculture

    Locally processed organic corn

    The threats made by the U.S. government undermine Mexico’s right to protect its indigenous communities and their seed heritage.

    U.S. policy harms American agriculture as well, by locking us into an industrial system that undermines local communities, pollutes our waterways, and fuels climate change.

    Instead of forcing GM crops on Mexico, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should focus on transforming American agriculture for the better.

    This includes:

    • Support for farmers to move away from chemical intensive agriculture and transition to organic
    • Support for grass-based grazing rather than feedlots that rely heavily on corn
    • Publicly funded research on non-GM seed varieties collaborating with and compensating indigenous communities
    • Development of local staple foods processing systems (watch this recent interview with OEFFA member Michelle Ajamian on why this is important)
    • Creation of soil health programs to reverse carbon loss and help store carbon in the soil

    To learn more about how you can support these solutions in the 2023 Farm Bill and in the Ohio legislature, please contact the OEFFA policy team.

  • Conservation,  Farm Bill

    Why Farm Bill Conservation Programs Matter (and What You Can Do About It)

    OEFFA’s member-farmers work hard every day to practice good conservation on their land. 

    They plant cover crops to feed the soil and protect it from erosion.  They create buffers of grass, trees, and shrubs, that draw carbon from the atmosphere and protect our waterways and find creative ways to improve habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. 

    Farmers are increasingly looking to expand their practices to include no- and reduced-tillage systems, rotational grazing, alley crops, and agroforestry. 

    All of these practices can help farmers produce food while also improving soil conditions to make their farms more resilient to shifting weather patterns.

    These important practices, which benefit all of society, require time and financial resources. Hard-working farmers should not have to bear those costs alone. 

    Natural Resource Conservation Service Programs

    At the height of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, Congress recognized that farmers needed support and resources to do the work of protecting and improving our soil.  Toward this end, Congress created the Soil Conservation Service, which later was renamed to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).  For decades, NRCS has played a critical role in supporting farmers to implement best practices.

    These days, farmers are most familiar with two NCRS programs:  the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  EQIP provides cost-share and technical assistance payments to farmers and ranchers to address natural resource concerns; including the Organic Initiative to support organic practice adoption and the High Tunnel Initiative for vegetable production.  CSP rewards advanced and conservation systems with 5-year renewable payment contracts to implement conservation practices like rotations, cover cropping, and rotational grazing. 

    In addition to these better-known programs, a variety of other NRCS and USDA programs are targeted toward conservation, organic farming, access to healthy food, support for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and local and regional food systems. For a full summary of those programs, please see this chart from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  

    Conservation Programs and the 2023 Farm Bill

    Every 5 years, Congress outlines the scope of these programs in the Farm Bill.  The next Farm Bill will be in 2023, which gives us the opportunity to expand and improve what is already being offered.  To do that, we need to make sure that our legislators understand how important these conservation programs are.

    Members of Congress need to hear how farmers in their communities are using these programs to create healthy soil, protect our waterways, increase resilience to drought and flooding, and remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil.  The best way to get that message across is for farmers to use these programs and to share their stories.


    • If you aren’t currently making use of these programs, check out the deadlines and application process for 2022.  Note that there is special consideration for organic farmers and historically underserved farmers (which include BIPOC farmers, veterans, and beginning farmers)
    • If you are already using these programs, please contact us at policy@oeffa.org to share your story. Sharing your experience helps inspire others and allows Congress to better shape future programs to meet your needs.
    • Even if you aren’t a farmer, your voice matters. By creating healthy soil and clean water, these programs benefit us all. Please contact one of our policy organizers at policy@oeffa.org to learn more about how advocate for these programs in the upcoming farm bill, through letter writing or calls or visits to your Member of Congress.