The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is a coalition of grassroots organizations that focuses on advancing sustainable agriculture and food systems. NSAC accomplishes these goals by advocating for federal policy reforms. Across this network, relationships are built so that we can achieve a nationwide reach of fighting for just, sustainable, and equitable food systems.
OEFFA became a member of NSAC when our policy program was developed more than 11 years ago. Being a member means that we bring issues of importance to our members to the table and are part of the decision-making process. We work together to advance policy to support small and mid-size farmers, protect natural resources, promote healthy rural communities, and ensure equal access to healthy, nutritious food.
Envisioning a Better Food System
NSAC’s vision of agriculture is similar to what we value here at OEFFA: one where a safe, nutritious, ample, and affordable food supply is produced by a community of family farmers who make a decent living pursuing their trade—while stewarding the environment and contributing to the strength and stability of their communities. All pieces of this vision relate to OEFFA’s narrative by focusing on the whole picture of a person, what makes them unique, what is important to them, and treating the world as a regenerative system that we must not just exploit but appreciate and protect.
Together, the alliance of grassroots perspectives helps level the playing field against dominant big agribusiness corporations. Those on the ground are often overlooked and stories from our peers are not always on the top of a member of Congress’ desk. OEFFA and other NSAC members like us bring grassroots voices, problems, and solutions to the table to ensure that the needs of communities are being met.
Within NSAC, we gather input from farmers, educators, and producers from diverse backgrounds to direct our policy work. Community members are empowered by being represented when policy issues are shared with members of Congress and federal agencies like the USDA and EPA. This encourages engagement in our policy processes and advances our narrative for change in the sustainable agriculture movement. The power of doing this together with approximately 50 member organizations and many other supporters is a true example of a grassroots movement.
NSAC has led in the development of working lands conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The coalition has also supported beginning farmers through the creation of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Aside from the clear big wins like these two programs, there have been hundreds of examples where—working together—we make programs work better for people and advance a truly sustainable agriculture and food system.
Being NSAC members provides benefits that go beyond the policy arena—it allows us to be in community with one another. In each area of the country, we face specific environmental challenges that directly affect our food supply chain. NSAC provides a space for information sharing, strategizing, and holding emotions about the many difficulties related to dealing with the climate crisis and food systems challenges.
NSAC 2023 Summer Meeting
Two members of our team, Amalie and Nicole, just traveled to Boulder, Colorado for the summer NSAC 2023 conference. We were able to be in deep conversation with one another on pushing farm bill priorities across the United States. We collaborated on ways to broaden the reach of local food systems, promote climate-friendly farming, support beginning and BIPOC farmers, and invest in the future through sustainable and organic research.
This diverse, transformative group provides so many opportunities and we encourage you to check them out!
Many of our marker bill priorities are in response to advocacy by NSAC and other coalitions. Learn more about how you can advance them in the 2023 Farm Bill by reaching out to our team at email@example.com for support. We are stronger together!
The work on a transformational 2023 Farm Bill is underway as climate scientists, activists, food and agriculture businesses, community leaders, anti-monopoly advocates, and policymakers pool together ideas and input for the new legislation. The reauthorization of the farm bill is supposed to be completed by the end of September. Because of the fight over the country’s debt limit and partisan battles, it will likely take until the end of this year or early next before we have a new farm bill.
Despite a longer timeline, things are moving and we wanted to lay out the key marker bills OEFFA is supporting.
A marker bill is legislation that is introduced to advance policy proposals and assess their level of support, with the hope of making it into the first bill draft advanced by the leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.
- Increase investments in local and regional food systems
- Address consolidation in the food and agriculture system
- Invest in organic and sustainable research
- Promote soil health and climate resilience through conservation policy
- Provide more support for beginning and BIPOC farmers
Bills Supporting Local and Regional Food and Farming Systems
Local Food and Farms Act (LFFA) (S. 1205, H.R. 2723) Championed by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown
This act would strengthen local and regional food system infrastructure and promote rural and urban community economic development. LFFA offers reforms that would make it easier for applicants to use the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). Investments would be prioritized toward small producers and underserved areas.
Strengthening Local Meat Processing Act (SLPA) (S. 354, H.R. 945) Also being championed by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown
SLPA promotes competition within agricultural markets and invests in economic development. The bill addresses critical livestock and poultry supply chain issues, advances training programs for resilient community food systems, and supports small meat and poultry processing plants.
The Farmers’ Market and Food Bank Local Revitalization Act of 2023 (H.R. 2378) Championed by Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur
This bill would provide increased financial assistance for farmers’ markets and farmers’ market nutrition programs, and increase local agricultural production through food bank in-house production and local farmer contracting.
Bills Addressing Consolidation
Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act (S. 557, H.R. 1249)
This marker bill opposes the funneling of checkoff tax dollars into deceptive and anti-competitive lobbying groups. A call for increased transparency and accountability in commodity checkoff programs is central to this legislation.
Checkoff fees are deemed mandatory by the Department of Agriculture for certain commodities (corn, soybeans, beef, eggs, etc.). They fund boards and councils that research and market the commodity as a whole.
Farm System Reform Act of 2023 (S. 271)
This bill promotes marketplace competition and fairness. It would reduce monopolistic practices of meatpackers and corporate integrators, suspend large factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and support mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements.
There will be other marker bills on crop insurance reform, but they have not been introduced yet. In the interim, check out OEFFA’s Crop Insurance Platform here.
Bills Supporting Organic and Sustainable Research
Seeds and Breeds for the Future (S. 2964)
This legislation promotes the development of regionally-adapted seed varieties to increase yields and resilience. This would support farmers through challenges with drought and varying growing conditions.
This bill would direct the agricultural research service to expand organic research. The legislation would also fund research projects that help farmers become more efficient, productive, and profitable.
Biochar Research Network Act (H.R. 1645)
This bill would create a national network to test biochar’s ability to absorb carbon and increase crop production.
This bipartisan legislation would support research into how agrivoltaic systems (land being used for agriculture and solar photovoltaic energy generation) can generate clean energy, keep farmland in production, and strengthen rural economies.
Organic Science and Research Investment Act (S – just introduced)
The Organic Science and Research Investment (OSRI) is Democrat-led legislation that would expand funding for USDA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative, providing more grants to research agencies and universities. It would also require the USDA to study the feasibility of certifying more research land as organic and would create a grant program for producers transitioning to organic.
Bills Supporting Climate Resilience
Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) (S. 1016, H.R. 1840)
This comprehensive bill is promoted to support farmers as the climate crisis expands and impacts their ability to produce and thrive. Six policy areas are prioritized: research; soil health; farmland protection and viability; pasture-based livestock; on-farm energy; and food waste.
Zero Food Waste Act (S. 177, H.R. 652)
This bill would divert food waste from landfills and ensure hungry Americans have access to food that is often thrown away.
Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion Of Sustainable Techniques (COMPOST) Act (S. 179, H.R. 4443)
COMPOST was introduced to redirect food waste away from landfills and promote local composting infrastructure. The bill would add composting as a conservation practice for the USDA’s conservation programs, in addition to providing funding for home, farm, and community-based compost projects.
Bills Supporting Beginning and BIPOC Farmers
Justice for Black Farmers Act (S. 96)
The introduced legislation would reform the USDA, provide debt relief, establish a farm conservation corps, and create a land grant program. It would also increase funding for programs that support all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
There will be more bills related to research, conservation, beginning and BIPOC farmers, consolidation, and climate introduced soon. This is a great opportunity to reach out to your members of Congress and let them know you want them to sign on in support of these marker bills.
If you are interested in doing that, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be glad to provide talking points and resources.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law on August 16, 2022. Among its other aims, the act includes investments in federal programs that address the climate crisis, like those in support of climate-smart agriculture practices. As such, part of the IRA’s $19.5 billion package includes funding for oversubscribed conservation programs implemented by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In fiscal year 2023, this means $850 million will be available for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Additional Investments for Thousands of Farmers and Millions of Acres
In total, the IRA will provide an additional $1.4 billion for ACEP, $4.95 billion for RCPP, $8.45 billion for EQIP, and $3.25 billion for CSP. The funding begins in fiscal year 2023 and will continue to rapidly build over the span of four years. Providing direct mitigation benefits, these programs will support climate-smart agriculture through financial and technical assistance to help farmers advance on-farm conservation practices.
Formerly, there have been about twice as many farmers applying for CSP as those who receive funding. The IRA will help to address the issue of oversubscription and underfunding. According to the USDA, “These additional investments are estimated to help hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers apply conservation to millions of acres of land.”
What are Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices?
To date, the IRA is the most significant federal investment in climate-smart agriculture. It bolsters existing USDA programs that mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis while strengthening a farm operation. So, what are examples of climate-smart agriculture?
Climate-smart agriculture practices are numerous and varied. For farmers, they include activities like resource-conserving crop rotations, buffer strips, and even mulching to improve soil health. Climate-smart agricultural examples for ranchers include rotational grazing and forage plantings that help to increase organic matter in depleted soil.
CSP at a Glance
The CSP helps forest and agricultural producers take their existing conservation efforts and climate-smart practices to the next level. Covering more acres on a multi-year basis than other conservation programs, CSP encourages farmers and ranchers to protect natural resources and improve the environment—while supporting profitability.
The technical and financial assistance targets five key conservation areas:
- Air, soil, and water quality
- Carbon sequestration
- Biodiversity and pollinator and wildlife habitat
- Natural resource concerns in a particular area (i.e., erosion, water quality)
- Water and energy conservation
Agricultural producers who make use of eligible climate-smart agricultural practices can apply for CSP funding. The enrollment process is competitive. Applications are ranked based on conservation plans, which are developed with an NRCS agent. Fortunately, as a result of the IRA, more producers in 2023 will have access to conservation assistance and funding from the CSP.
Get Paid for the Climate-Smart Practices You Use
“The Inflation Reduction Act provided a once-in-a-generation investment in conservation on working lands, and we want to work with agricultural and forest landowners to invest in climate-smart practices that create value and economic opportunity for producers,” said Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. Payment amounts vary and are based on conservation practices, but all CSP contracts pay a minimum annual payment of $1,500 (up to approximately $40,000 a year).
If you control land and its production, you’re eligible for CSP. This includes landowners, renters, and owners who crop share. To take advantage of CSP’s increased funding as a result of the IRA, it’s imperative to apply by your state’s ranking dates. In Ohio, the first application cutoff date for the IRA-CSP funding pool is April 7, 2023.
To begin the application process, contact your local NRCS office. Along with an agent, you can use Ohio’s IRA CSP activity list to determine eligibility for the program. Based on the climate-smart agriculture activities you use and plan to use, you’ll work with an agent to complete the Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART). Your conservation efforts will be assessed against those from other applicants. If you rank highly, you will be offered a five-year contract and funding. Historically underserved farmers receive special consideration.
The Benefits of CSP
Thousands of people voluntarily enroll in CSP—a number that will be even higher as a result of IRA funding. They often see real results, like improved wildlife habitats, increased resiliency to extreme weather and market volatility, and a decreased spending on agricultural inputs. Do you engage with CSP and the use of climate-smart agriculture practices? If so, please contact us to share your experiences. The 2023 Farm Bill provides an opportunity for us to continue advocating for NRCS programs like CSP.
Written by Ricardo Salvador, 2023 OEFFA Conference Keynote
The upcoming reauthorization of the farm bill will be the 23rd iteration of this legislation. According to Jonathan Coppess and Chris Adamo—Vermont Law School teachers of a course on the “modern farm bill”—this version could be revolutionary. They see the main driver of this potential departure being the role agriculture could play in mitigating climate change.
A Push for Business As Usual—But a Need for Something New
A problem with this otherwise sensible prediction is that it would require genuine change in farm practices and the policies that incentivize and support the structure of farming.
Already, the incoming chair of the House Agriculture Committee is on record stating that he “will not have us suddenly incorporate buzzwords like regenerative agriculture into the farm bill or overemphasize climate.” The president of the Iowa Farm Bureau—the most influential state chapter of the powerful national federation—wants the bill to stay the same, and continue to distribute public largesse without any expectation that it will return verifiable environmental benefits.
Of greatest concern is that in its recent announcements of nearly $3 billion in “climate smart commodity” awards, the USDA has amply demonstrated that the politics of farm country and agribusiness will dilute the Department’s ability to promote and support effective climate change action through agriculture.
There is a scientific component to this, but the most important factor is political. A patchwork of “climate friendly” voluntary practices used during any given production year will have limited ability to reverse greenhouse gas contributions—regardless of farmers’ positive intent. For this sector to meaningfully reverse its emissions, the massive changes in land use and row-crop and livestock production that are needed can only be brought about by the wide-reaching legislative power of the farm bill.
Revolutionary Farm Bills Throughout History
This brings us to the Coppess and Adamo analysis. On their telling, there have only been three truly revolutionary farm bills. They define these as legislation that completely shifted the direction of farm policy.
The most recent was the disastrous “Freedom to Farm” bill of 1996. It attempted to eliminate farm subsidies through a transitional program, but instead led to the consolidation of farmland into larger operations, and the failure and displacement of thousands of family farms. The system of government support was rapidly restored in the subsequent 2002 Farm Bill.
The first farm bill in 1933 was revolutionary precisely because it recognized the government’s essential role in agriculture: to manage the market for agricultural products in a way that farmers could not accomplish on their own. Farmers, and all of U.S. society, have lived since then with the reality of the determinative role of government programs in farming. All farm bill debates have largely been about whom and what to support with this massive public intervention (the current bill is a $428 billion package of tax dollars).
This brings up the remaining revolutionary farm bill, and a lesson for how to break the impasse created by powerful organizations and corporate interests dependent on government support—and which therefore have a stake in shaping and controlling “status quo” farm bills. The 1985 Food Security Act expanded the traditional interest groups vying for public tax dollars by bringing in the anti-hunger community.
This is what Coppess and Adamo identify as the beginning of the “modern” farm bill era, since the “Farm Bill Coalition” created to pass that bill has not only persisted, but the new “nutrition programs” they sponsored have become the lion’s share of the bill, capturing 76.1 percent of the most recent farm bill spending. The “farm side” and “nutrition side” need one another to be politically viable. And this is the ultimate lesson that Coppess and Adamo drew: it is all about the coalitions you bring to the debate.
Shaking Up the Status Quo
At the Union of Concerned Scientists, we have been working with a large number of partners, including OEFFA, to shape a new, broader coalition for the farm bill debate. By definition, a status quo approach to the farm bill begins with the existing legislation as a template, and is about making minimal adjustments.
A transformational approach calls for us to ask what we need from a 21st century food system, and to then craft that legislation without the constraints of programs designed to answer different questions from a different era.
The new coalition is led by the notion that many have a stake, in particular groups representing large communities historically excluded from shaping farm and food policy. We see the bill as a vehicle to center the racial justice issues accounting for farming being a dominantly white occupation, with the labor side of the farm and food system being a conspicuously Brown and Black work force.
This is why the coalition marks the return of the labor sector, which was an essential partner with farmers—as a grassroots, working-class coalition—in shaping the original agricultural policies embedded in the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act.
No matter your perspective, we can agree this is indisputably a transformational approach to the traditional “farm bill debate.” Accordingly, the coalition’s priority demands are seen as a package, a set of issues so interrelated they cannot be effectively addressed by breaking them apart. They are:
- Center racial justice
- End hunger
- Meet the climate crisis head on
- Increase access to nutritious food
- Ensure safety and dignity for food and farm workers
- Protect farmers and consumers
- Ensure the safety of our food supply
All of us who are involved are pragmatic, and understand this approach is a long shot. This is because of powerful entrenched interests (the agribusiness lobby is larger than the defense lobby), and not because this suite of issues is not well-framed, urgent, and relevant to the times in which we live.
The status quo interests have vulnerabilities, key among which is the difficulty they will have in making the straight-faced argument that they need more of the lavish public support that has led to historical farm profits and farmland values. Coppess, who has authored what I consider to be the landmark book on the farm bill’s history, has been warning Midwest farm groups that the sailing might not be smooth for the “bipartisan approach” (code word for status quo) that such groups would like to see in the bill.
At the upcoming OEFFA conference, we will discuss the prospects, strategy, and progress of this transformational campaign, and the key role that OEFFA can play in advancing this work. After all, the farm bill is legislation in which every person in the nation has a stake, and no effort to take part in the farm bill process can be credible without the genuine and active participation of farmer groups.
Ricardo Salvador is an agronomist and the director and senior scientist of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His keynote address, A Transformational Idea for the 2023 Farm Bill, will take place on Saturday, February 18 at the 2023 OEFFA Conference. Learn more about OEFFA’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform.
Organic and sustainable 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 draw carbon from the atmosphere, protect our waterways, and improve wildlife and pollinator habitat. Many farmers would like to expand their practices to include no- and reduced-tillage systems, rotational grazing, and agroforestry.
But, these important practices, which benefit us all, require time and financial resources to implement. Hard-working farmers should not have to bear those costs alone. Luckily, there are programs available to help.
Right now, farmers across the country can apply for this year’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This program provides payments to farmers who use new and existing conservation practices. Applications are due in April.
What is the Conservation Stewardship Program?
CSP is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) largest conservation program. It offers whole farm conservation assistance to farmers across the country. Sign-up opportunities are available each year.
The program provides financial assistance for advanced conservation through five-year renewable contracts to implement all kinds of conservation practices, including crop rotations, cover crops, and rotational grazing.
Many organic producers already use practices that are detailed in this Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) program or can benefit from using CSP to provide wildlife habitat, conservation buffers, protect water quality, and much more.
Changes to the program as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill include a higher payment rate for some conservation activities and specific support for organic and transitioning producers. Historically underserved farmers (including BIPOC, veteran, and beginning farmers) receive special consideration.
Yet, few Ohio farmers have taken advantage of this opportunity.
How Do I Sign Up for the Conservation Stewardship Program?
Applying to CSP is simple. By April (exact deadline to be announced), farmers must complete and submit an application by contacting their local local NRCS office.
Importantly, you need to have a farm record number established through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).
If you don’t have an FSA number, go to your FSA office to establish a farm record number before submitting your CSP application.
Applicants must also have control of the land for the five-year term of the CSP contract.
After submitting your application, you will work with NRCS to complete the tools to evaluate management systems and natural resources on the operation’s land.
If you plan to apply for CSP, drop us a line and let us know, or if you need assistance implementing conservation practices on your farm, contact one of OEFFA’s sustainable agriculture educators at (614) 947-1647.
The Conservation Stewardship Program and the 2023 Farm Bill
Every 5 years, Congress outlines the scope and funding of CSP and other programs in the Farm Bill. The next 2023 Farm Bill gives us the opportunity to expand and improve CSP so it better meets farmers’ needs.
But, 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, and increase resilience. The best way to get that message across is for farmers to use these programs and share their stories. If your farm has used CSP, please contact us to share your story.
If you aren’t a farmer, your voice also matters. By creating healthy soil and clean water, these programs benefit us all. Please contact us to learn more about how you can help advocate for CSP and other conservation programs in the 2023 Farm Bill.
This growing season (like many before) has seen months of challenging conditions including excessive rain followed by days on end of high heat and drought. In facing these challenges, Ohio farmers know that improving soil health is a critical component to mitigating the impacts of these extreme weather events, as well as offering a myriad of other environmental benefits.
But our farmers can’t do this alone. It’s essential that there is legislative investment in supporting and incentivizing the use of good soil management practices to create lasting environmental and economic resiliency. This commitment to soil health needs to be more than just seed deep. When we prioritize soil health, we’re supporting improved surface and ground water quality, increased crop productivity and profitability, better water holding capacity and reduced erosion, and so much more. Going deeper, this commitment means investing in the future of our farms, in a more sustainable food system, and resilient communities.
Coordinated planning and leadership that’s informed by our farmers is needed to make good soil health practices a real priority in the state of Ohio. That’s why just this May, with support from OEFFA and the Ohio Soil Health Initiative (OSHI), Representative Juanita Brent (D-12), introduced Ohio House Bill 669 which aims to create a Healthy Soils Task Force.
Getting to Know HB 669
HB 669 calls for creating a Healthy Soils Task Force consisting of a diverse group of farmers, agriculture and soil health experts from Ohio academic institutions, conservation and environmental organization representatives, and appointees from the Ohio House and Senate. With administrative and fiscal support from the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) the group will:
- Develop a healthy soils initiative for the state of Ohio
- Create a comprehensive action plan to implement an Ohio soil initiative with set goals, timelines and resource requirements and availabilities
- Examine, identify, and review:
- Financial incentives to improve soil health;
- The benefits of livestock to soil health;
- Goals and timelines for improving soil health in the state via partnerships between producers and regional agencies and other invested organizations;
- Identification of federal resources that can be leveraged in the state of Ohio to further soil health practice.
- Consult additional experts and agencies
- By the end of 2022 (at which time the Task Force will be terminated), submit the action plan, report findings and suggestions to the Governor and the State House and Senate agricultural committees
Next Steps to Prioritizing Healthy Soils in Ohio
This bill is the first step towards prioritizing soil health in Ohio and there is still time to contact your legislator and ask them to support the Healthy Soils Task Force!
If you would like to be more involved, contact email@example.com or (614) 725-0903 to learn about how you can help support healthy soils in Ohio.
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.
Call or 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.
- 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.
Healthy soils are the foundation of our food and farm system. Soil is essential to healthy crops, healthy animals, and healthy people. Representative Juanita Brent (D-12) has proposed a bill that would create a Soil Health Task Force.
If done right, this proposed bill would be the first step towards ensuring Ohio agriculture remains viable for future generations. Please consider co-sponsoring Representative Brent’s proposed bill to move these efforts forward.
Thank you for serving our community. Have a great day.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com 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.
This guest post was written by Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Campaign Director with the National Young Farmers Coalition. The Coalition is a national advocacy network of young farmers fighting for the future of agriculture.
Editor’s Note: To begin helping to address the challenges identified in this report, OEFFA is working to pass the Family Farm ReGeneration Act. The bipartisan House Bill 95, which would help beginning farmers access farmland and provide greater resilience to Ohio’s food system, has cleared its House committee hurdles and awaits a full House floor vote. If you care about these issues and would like to get involved, complete this petition to the Ohio legislature and call your Ohio House Representative today and ask them to bring HB 95 to the floor for a vote.
This past year has highlighted the critically important role that young farmers and ranchers play in stewarding natural resources, advocating for policy change, and supporting food security. Yet, access to affordable, quality farmland—the key resource that these growers need—remains deeply inequitable and out of reach for far too many.
The National Young Farmers Coalition released a new report, Land Policy: Towards a More Equitable Farming Future, that illustrates the critical connection between land, policy and power. The report highlights the challenges young farmers, and in particular, Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color (BIPOC), face accessing land and provides a detailed path forward through policy change.
Young Farmers released this report alongside a new Land Policy website which includes profiles of farmers who are navigating the challenges of accessing land as well as a growing library of resources and policy solutions that lawmakers can implement now to facilitate secure, equitable land access for growers. Together, these resources provide a toolkit for farmers, policymakers, organizations and advocates to understand these issues and take action.
Understanding the Issue
Access to farmland remains the number one barrier facing aspiring farmers today, and this barrier is even higher for farmers of color. Land ownership is rooted in the dispossession of Indigenous land and centuries of stolen labor from people of color—both sanctioned through public policy—while the contributions these communities have made to U.S. agriculture remain largely unacknowledged. This history is essential to understanding the land access challenges young farmers face today.
While the challenge of access to land is nearly universal, the nuances vary significantly depending on your vantage point. Farmers in arid parts of the U.S. must navigate complex management structures to secure necessary water resources. In urban areas, farmers grapple with zoning barriers and contaminated soil. Land-related challenges are compounded for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, farm workers, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ individuals due to the intersection of land access challenges with structural racism and other tools of systemic oppression.
Part of the reason finding secure access to farmland is so complex is that farmers are not simply searching for land to grow on, they are looking for land to build a life upon. Further, land often changes hands without ever coming onto the formal real estate market, presenting a serious challenge for young farmers in particular, many of whom didn’t grow up in farming and aren’t connected to networks of landowners.
These factors all intersect with the affordability of the land. The prospect of saving enough money for a down payment while employed in agriculture is an elusive promise. Paradoxically, gaining the skills to actually run your own farm business often puts that same dream out of reach. For many farm workers, especially those who have traveled to the U.S. to work, language barriers, legal obstacles, and ingrained systems of oppression in farm labor mean that the dream is even further removed from possibility.
Ultimately, while it may be possible to find available land to grow on, accessing land where a farmer can have the security that they need to invest in the land and their business can prove to be a nearly insurmountable barrier. For many, land ownership will forever be out of reach and leasing might be the only option. But leases often prevent a farmer from building financial equity, locking them into low-income careers with little prospect of saving and few avenues to grow their businesses without valuable collateral to borrow against.
Private Property, Land Loss and Wealth
The system of private property rights, which is based on an extractive relationship with land, is at the root of the land access challenge. The fact that land is a limited resource that is steadily being degraded, alongside the impacts of generational wealth-building, further exacerbate the issue.
Land as an entity that can be bought and sold is a settler-colonial construct. This framework has been enforced through the United States’ political and legal systems, and it has been used to dispossess Indigenous people of billions of acres of land. Land has been tied to wealth extraction from every community of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in America since Columbus. The result is deep inequity—98 percent of farmland in the U.S. is owned by white people and 95 percent of farmers are white.
This inequity exists against the backdrop of numerous other challenges—the cost of land is rising, the climate crisis threatens farm viability, farm consolidation marches on, land continues to be developed at an alarming rate, and the agricultural land that remains is increasingly owned by non-farmers.
Strikingly, the USDA estimates 30 percent of farmland is now owned by non-farmers; 40 percent of farmland is leased; and nearly 45 percent of landlords have never farmed. As investor interest in farmland grows, the consequences are significant for farmers who cannot compete in terms of price or speed of purchase.
And that competition is getting steeper as the resource itself dwindles. According to the American Farmland Trust, farmland is lost at a rate of 2,000 acres per day. The land that is paved over and turned into housing developments is disproportionately high-quality land around urban areas, precisely where young farmers want to grow.
As land is lost from agriculture or sold to non-farmers, farmers themselves are competing for what remains and being driven towards economies of scale that perpetuate consolidation of land. Forty-one percent of farmland in the U.S. is operated by just over 7 percent of the farms.
Who Owns the Land Matters
Land ownership has a cumulative effect on farm viability. When farmers own land, they can leverage that land to capitalize further land purchases, infrastructure investments, or other forms of saving that benefit future generations. The effects are clear: in the Coalition’s 2017 survey of young farmers across the country, the average farm size of respondents who came from farm families was 87.25 compared to 12 acres for those from non-farming backgrounds.
Who owns the land matters in part because a lot of wealth is tied up in farmland. The overall value of farm real estate in 2020 was forecast to be $2.58 trillion, accounting for over 80 percent of all 2020 farm sector assets. Access to this land and wealth is directly tied to the ability to succeed in agriculture. However, the problem is bigger than simply who owns the land. We must look critically at the policies that have perpetuated commodification and inequity in land over centuries.
Land, Policy and Power
Land is a canvas where the results of a racialized system that uses extraction as a tool is made visible. If we are going to advocate for policies that move towards a more equitable farming future, we must understand the ways in which policy and land have been deeply intertwined to create our present reality.
Land has been tied to controlling access to political power ever since colonial land laws prohibiting non-white ownership and restricting voting to those who owned land. Once in power, those individuals proceeded to enact policies designed to perpetuate their control of land-based resources. Strategies of this work have included dispossession and fractionation, employing state-sanctioned violence; redistribution of land to white individuals; and denying access to the resources necessary to acquire and hold land, such as home mortgages and farm loans.
Once the system of land ownership that privileged white male landowners was established, tax laws and programs that provide government dollars to landowners have continued to benefit these owners without explicit statements of discrimination. These strategies have played out through executive orders, legislative action, judicial rulings, and administrative implementation. These tools of oppression can be turned to tools of liberation, but dedicated advocacy is required.
In the face of this history, there is an equally strong narrative of resistance and innovation from communities of color. Many of the practices of what we call sustainable, regenerative, and organic farming in fact come from BIPOC communities. Tools such as land trusts, community supported agriculture, and critical policy advocacy that have advanced civil rights in the face of land-based discrimination have been led by those communities. The history of resistance is equally important and forms the framework on which we will learn and build our current resistance and dismantling work.
Secure access to land is the foundation of vibrant communities, food sovereignty, climate resiliency, and sound farm businesses. It is critically important for food safety, mental health, market access, farm planning, soil improvements, and navigating severe weather events.
A greater percentage of U.S. farmland than ever before is farmed by individuals nearing the end of their career – meaning hundreds of millions of acres are expected to change hands in the coming decade. This represents an incredible opportunity to shift power and resources, but bold policy change is needed. If we do nothing, the forces of wealth accumulation and extraction from the land will continue, and we will lose a generation of young growers who are trained and stand ready to grow food for their communities.
As illustrated, public policy is at the heart of land use and many of the challenges that farmers face accessing land. Policy has shaped our food system and must be part of the bold, systemic change required to tackle its interconnected challenges. As millions of acres are predicted to change hands in the coming years, there is a real opportunity to work towards land justice, rematriation, and more equitable models of land access that put land in the hands of young, diverse farmers.
Young Farmers’ report offers a path forward through key principles to guide policy solutions, as well as important, actionable steps that policy makers can implement now to create more secure, equitable land access for the next generation of growers.
Specifically, the report calls on policymakers to act now to:
- Eliminate inequities in land ownership and access;
- Protect farmland for producers;
- Facilitate appropriate, affordable, and secure land tenure; and
- Support farm viability and transition.
The report acknowledges and uplifts the work that farmers, and farmers of color in particular, are doing to address inequity and land access challenges through organizing in their communities, and urges policy makers to reflect the values and examples embedded in that work.
For more detailed state, federal, and local policy recommendations, see the full report.
Land is fundamental to survival. Access to this resource should not be a privilege. As we work toward a future defined by racial equity, community well-being, and climate resilience, land must be centered in our policymaking and our organizing.
About the National Young Farmers Coalition
The National Young Farmers Coalition (the Coalition) is a grassroots network of farmers, ranchers, and supporters fighting for a more bright and just future for agriculture. Since 2010, we have launched 48 farmer-led chapters across the United States and built a grassroots base of more than 200,000 individuals. The Coalition helps young farmers become leaders in their communities through local chapter organizing, ensuring they have a seat at the table in local, state, and national policy decisions. We address structural barriers facing young farmers through farm bill advocacy, United States Department of Agriculture program reform, and by training key stakeholders and service providers to better serve the next generation. In addition, we provide business services to young farmers, offering tools, resources, and technical assistance to help them navigate business challenges and seize market opportunities.