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What Does a Biden Administration Mean for Sustainable Agriculture?

We recently survived one of the most contentious elections in recent memory. Whomever your preferred candidate, we now have a declared winner in Joe Biden. But what does that mean for sustainable and organic agriculture, local food systems, and conservation policy?

One of the priorities of President-Elect Joe Biden’s agricultural agenda is to strengthen anti-trust enforcement. According to the campaign website, “American farmers and ranchers are being hurt by increasing market concentration. Biden will make sure farmers and producers have access to fair markets where they can compete and get fair prices for their products—and require large corporations to play by the rules instead of writing them—by strengthening enforcement of the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts and the Packers and Stockyards Act.”

Action to address concentration and consolidation would have tremendous, positive consequences for sustainable family farmers across the country. The increasing level of concentration and consolidation in agriculture, food processing, and retailing makes it increasingly difficult for all but the biggest and most specialized—and often the least sustainable—to thrive. By allowing more free market competition and development of local and regional food markets and processing infrastructure, farmers can be price makers instead of being forced to be the lowest price takers.

Biden’s platform also includes the development of local and regional food markets. By partnering “with small and mid-sized farmers to help them collectively create supply chains to deliver fresh produce and other products to schools, hospitals, and other major state and federal institutions, including the Defense Department…these farmers [can] negotiate their own prices.”

Importantly, a future for American agriculture requires a crop of new farmers interested, willing, and able to start a farm operation. Access to land, credit, and capitol are common, significant barriers new farmers must overcome, and despite a successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that provides resources for programs, like OEFFA’s Begin Farming Program, the scale of the these challenges requires more resources and attention.

Biden states that he “will expand the Obama-Biden Administration’s microloan program for new and beginning farmers, doubling the maximum loan amount to $100,000…and increase funding for the USDA’s farm ownership and operating loans.” 

Farmers, new or old, are the backbone of rural communities that have struggled with the bifurcation of farming to, mostly, very large and very small operations, with those in the middle being squeezed out.  Biden’s platform includes measures to bolster rural communities by expanding broadband to every American and expanding the role of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), to make up for the fact that almost 40 percent of rural counties don’t have one bank branch.

There are few clear indicators of how this new administration will prioritize organic agriculture, address the ongoing concern over the integrity of the National Organic Program (NOP), or tackle long-overdue issues like integrity with organic dairy production, animal welfare standards, hydroponics, or fraudulent organic grain imports. But, Biden has stated an interest in increasing funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, which are important sources of research, outreach materials, and programming for sustainable and organic agriculture.

There also indications that farm conservation will be a priority. Specifically, the Biden website states that it will “dramatically expand and fortify the pioneering Conservation Stewardship Program, to support farm income through payments based on farmers’ practices to protect the environment, including carbon sequestration.”

As of this writing, it appears that we will have a divided government with Democrats controlling the executive branch and House of Representatives and Republicans controlling the Senate. If that remains the case, pending two senate runoff races in Georgia, a great deal of what is accomplished may depend upon a spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation, which has been lacking for more than a decade.

OEFFA members care about the integrity of the organic program and the ability of organic and sustainable farmers to make a viable living.  We care about increase in the resilience of local and regional food systems as the globalized food system revealed its fragility amidst the 2020 pandemic.

That’s why “We the People” must hold our decision-makers accountable for their support or opposition to the issues we care about. If you want to be part of that accountability team, contact OEFFA today to learn more!