Guest blog post by Sasha Miller, Purplebrown Farmstead and Farm Store
More folks should discuss the farm bill when it renews every five years because it affects so much of our society through its policies and funding allocations. The farm bill not only determines in part what we eat and how much it costs, but also influences the wages of workers, who is able to become a farmer, the level of social support for improving food access, and what type of support is provided at all.
And, in the context of current climate challenges, the farm bill has a major impact on our collective carbon footprint, by encouraging certain agricultural production methods through its policies. For instance, conventional agriculture practices include nitrogen and topsoil runoff, major algae blooms in our lakes, methane pollution from CAFOs, and deforestation of vital forests for pasture and crops. These practices are incentivized through the farm bill and other USDA programs and lead to climate instability, tragic droughts, more frequent floods, wildfires, and more.
Organic farmers have remained motivated to produce healthy food in healthy soil, in spite of social, economic, and political challenges. Because we’ve always known—and by now sufficient scientific research has proven—that organic practices are essential for healthy soil, healthy food, and a healthy planet. Small organic farms can, and must, carry the awesome burden of nourishing our communities if we are to see a brighter future for our planet.
Supporting Small and Sustainable
Small organic farms stimulate local economies and keep more dollars in communities, improve the quality of life for neighbors, and create meaningful job opportunities for diverse people. It would be extreme to say that small organic farms can feed the world, but they sure can steer us toward a more stable climate and healthy society. Still, major obstacles remain in place to expand organic production for wider benefit, because our policies are decided by those involved.
This year, the farm bill can substantially correct the course to positively and immediately affect our climate and social welfare, with a focus on organic production and small, diversified farms. Senator Sherrod Brown, a long-time supporter of small organic farms, is sponsoring several marker bills that promote soil health and climate resilience, support beginning and BIPOC farmers, strengthen regional and local food systems, and invest in organic and sustainable research. All these programs would meaningfully impact our collective future, as part of the 2023 Farm Bill.
Give the Farm Bill the Attention it Deserves
I encourage everyone to call their representative, talk to a neighbor, and learn more about the 2023 Farm Bill. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Do we want to see more quaint little farms dotting the rural countryside, growing organic food, employing local workers, and keeping our communities healthy? Or, do we want to continue with the large polluting farms, increasing weather extremes, and poor rural communities desperate for financial support? The future is clearly related to what happens with the 2023 Farm Bill.
Guest blog post by Amanda Hernandez, OEFFA Policy Intern
Earlier this month, the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Glenn “GT” Thompson, announced that Congress will have to temporarily extend the 2018 Farm Bill because it will miss the September 30 deadline for enacting its successor. If you are someone who produces or eats food, this extension is extremely vital.
In brief, the farm bill is a piece of legislation that is renewed every five years and affects our entire food system. It encompasses a variety of programs, from farm subsidies to food assistance. There are two deadlines within the farm bill—the first being September 30, which is the end of the fiscal year (FY), and the second is December 31 which is the end of the crop year. These dates are of high importance because some programs may expire after the FY deadline, while others expire after the crop year.
So, What Happens if the Farm Bill Expires?
For some agricultural programs, the farm bill’s expiration leads to the reversion of permanent (previous) laws. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 and the Agricultural Act of 1949 are considered “permanent” laws and when the farm bill is passed every five years it supersedes these two previous laws. The crops that fall under these laws are dairy, wheat, rice, cotton, and corn. According to a report published on August 21 by the Congressional Research Service, if, for example, a new farm bill is not passed by the end of the crop year, then on January 1, 2024, the USDA is required to support these eligible commodities at levels that exceed 2023 market prices. For example, the USDA would have to buy milk at $50.70 per 100 pounds which is more than 2.5 times the current market price.
Congress can extend certain programs by passing separate funding bills to give agencies funding for ongoing operations. Other programs in the farm bill receive mandatory funding. This is a really important point as those programs do not have to ask for funding during the annual appropriations process when Congress decides which priorities they choose to fund. There are two types of mandatory-funded programs—those with baseline budgets and those without. A program without a baseline budget imposes budgetary costs that require authorization or an extension from Congress to continue.
For instance, in 2008, Congress enacted a one-year extension of the farm bill, but it was required to be “budget-neutral.” This led to Congress not extending the mandatory funding for programs without a baseline budget. Below are some of the major programs within the 2018 Farm Bill and how not having a new farm bill in place will affect them.
Breakdown of Programs
Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP)
Policy provisions that will expire at the end of the fiscal year:
- Livestock funding
- Payment limits
- Organic payment limits
Policy provisions that are extended until fiscal year 2031:
- Wildlife habitat funding
- Air quality funding
- On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Programs that are permanently authorized and funded:
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
- Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP)
Programs that could continue IF funding is provided in appropriations acts:
- SNAP and related grant programs (i.e., work training)
- Purchase and distribution of The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) commodities
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
- Nutrition assistance funding for Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands
- Community food projects
Programs that would require extension or specific appropriations language:
- Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
Potentially Stranded Programs
Programs that may not have the authority to operate or continue to receive new budget authority after the fiscal year 2023:
Title III: Trade
- Market Access Program (MAP)
- Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program
- Emerging Markets Program (EMP) and technical assistance for specialty crops
Title VII: Research
- Organic Agricultural Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)
Title IX: Energy
- Biobased Market Program
Title X: Horticulture
- Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
- Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP)
- National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program
Title XII: Miscellaneous
- Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program
- Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (“2501 Program”)
- Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP)
- Animal disease prevention and management programs
- Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Development Trust Fund
Using the Delay to Your Advantage
Considering the farm bill affects everyone in the food system, please let your members of Congress know what is important to you and what you want given priority within the 2023 Farm Bill. Take advantage of this critical window of opportunity by making your voice heard! Visit action.oeffa.org/your-farm-bill to access fact sheets, talking points, and other resources to support your advocacy efforts.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for support. We are stronger together!
The history of checkoffs is full of controversy, greed, and legal challenges. The initial idea was for farmers to pool their resources to boost product sales and increase farm profitability. But, over time, checkoff programs have become a way for corporations to consolidate wealth and power into ever-fewer hands.
Why Do OEFFA Members Care About Checkoff Programs?
We are now in a situation where very few people control a great deal of what we eat, where it is grown, how it is grown, and who profits. This has very real implications for public health, for the ability of beginning farmers to access land, for everyday farmers to just make a living, and much more.
As a significant contributor to consolidation in the food and agricultural system, checkoff programs operate virtually without oversight. Farmers, who fund this program, are not privy to how the $850 million collected in annual checkoff fees are spent.
What is a Checkoff?
Checkoffs are mandatory Department of Agriculture fees assessed on a per-unit basis that fund boards designed to promote the commodity as a whole. Farmers and ranchers pay the mandatory fee when they sell any of a diverse range of 22 commodities. Most people are familiar with slogans such as “Got Milk?” and “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner,” but aside from dairy, beef, corn, pork, and soybeans, there are quite a few more.
While checkoff programs take money from every producer of these 22 commodities, not all of them benefit. Worse, oftentimes their best interests are harmed.
As Farm Action so eloquently put it, “The history of checkoffs is dripping with controversy, greed, and legal challenges.” Deviating far from their intended purpose, checkoff programs are now largely under the control of powerful corporate lobbyists. As a result, more wealth and power are being concentrated in a smaller group of hands—and most certainly not trickling down to the honey, mushroom, or blueberry producers who are funding the system.
So… What’s the Beef?
- Lack of transparency: The dairy checkoff has the largest pool of money (has been implicated in collusion with lobbyists) and is required to submit annual financial reports to Congress. Despite that requirement, those reports have not been made for the past three years.
- Working against some producers: All of these commodity programs are for “conventional products,” meaning that they are not certified organic. For years, organic farmers and ranchers paid into a program that encouraged the public to buy conventional commodities. This has undermined organic producers’ ability to receive a higher price for goods raised without most synthetic chemicals and requiring more labor.
- Playing fast and loose: There have been instances of commodity contractors spending checkoff dollars for lobbying and vacations—clearly not a statutory use of commodity checkoff funds. The Guardian reported that the American Egg Board conducted an extensive campaign to sink a non-egg-based mayonnaise company.
Checkoff programs are prohibited from influencing governmental actions or disparaging other commodities. If cases of bad behavior like those mentioned above were in isolation, we may deem some aspects of checkoffs as “bad.” Unfortunately, there are many more, indicating systemic problems with checkoff programs.
How Does This Relate to OEFFA’s Farm Bill Priorities?
These programs reward the consolidation of power into fewer and fewer hands and encourage commodity production at scales that cause environmental harm. They can also put smaller producers out of business. It can be really complicated to track the flow of how checkoff funds contribute to concentration, but it’s no secret that big food companies like to work with big farms—which means higher costs and fewer markets for smaller farms.
Ultimately, we are all impacted by the negative effect of consolidation and the lack of real competition in food and agricultural markets. Currently, commodity checkoff programs make things worse, leading to higher prices at the grocery store.
So, What Can We Do?
U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Mike Lee (R-UT) led a bipartisan effort to reform agricultural checkoff programs. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have joined.
The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act will make checkoff programs more responsive to the farmers who are required to contribute to them. Countless farmers, ranchers, and other producers have seen their checkoff dollars squandered or used against their interests. This bill would prohibit certain wasteful, anti-competitive, and deceptive behavior from checkoff boards.
In March, OEFFA joined 130 other organizations in urging the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry and House Committee on Agriculture to enact meaningful reforms to checkoff programs by supporting the OFF Act. Join us in addressing conflicts of interest, lack of transparency, and misuse of funding to better support small and organic producers.
OEFFA staff are available to help you call your members of Congress, write a letter to the editor or opinion piece for your local newspaper, or take other action. If you want a better shake for farmers, contact OEFFA Policy Director, Amalie Lipstreu, at email@example.com today.
For many, getting the OEFFA conference schedule of workshops, keynotes, and networking events can make you feel like a kid in a candy store.
There’s so much good material to choose from and opportunities to connect with old friends and make new ones, all while working collectively toward a healthier future. The 2022 conference will be no exception.
If you want to see real change in our food and farming system—changes that support organic and regenerative farmers and invest in healthful local and regional food choices—you’re going to want to be a part of these key conversations at the 2022 OEFFA conference, Rooted and Rising, February 12 online and February 17-19 at the Dayton Convention Center:
- An Organic Approach to Farm Policy: Scott Marlow served as the executive director for the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, working to reorient the farm system away from concentration and corporate control to truly supporting family farmers. Join his virtual workshop on February 12 focusing on how we structure farm credit and risk management, and how the availability or lack of capital and access to crop insurance has a profound impact on the farming we see on the ground.
- Farm Bill Forecast: On February 12, a panel of food system leaders will explore how 2022 will be a formative year for the creation of the 2023 Farm Bill, and the unique opportunities it presents for reorienting the food system toward sustainability. Hear an in-depth conversation from Eric Deeble, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Abby Youngblood, executive director for the National Organic Coalition, and Jonathan McCracken, Senior Policy Advisor for Senator Sherrod Brown.
- How Should Organic Grow?: Patty Lovera, policy director for the Organic Farmers Association, will have a conversation with organic growers and supporters about how organic should grow in the years ahead during this workshop on February 12.
- Organic is Risky? Progress and Challenges of Crop Insurance for Organic Farmers: Jeff Schahczenski of the National Center for Appropriate Technology will focus on organic farmers and the crop insurance tools that do and don’t work during this February 12 workshop.
- Winning a Better Food and Farm System: OEFFA’s new policy team will lead a discussion on February 18 about how to win a better food and farm system, and provide real next steps you can take away from conference.
- The Critical To-Do List for Organic Agriculture: We are excited to welcome back Kathleen Merrigan, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While there, she helped establish national standards for organic food and oversee the National Organic Program. During this February 18 workshop, she’ll share insights from her work with the Organic Trade Association, where she is identifying the priorities for organic as we head into the 2023 Farm Bill.
This is just a sample of the critical policy conversations that we hope you will be a part of during the 2022 conference. Please join us as we work toward positive change! Learn more and register at conference.oeffa.org.
This blog a re-posting from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP).
It will offer a $5 per acre premium discount to producers who planted qualifying cover crops during the 2021 crop year and enrolled in eligible federal crop insurance policies.
To receive this premium benefit, eligible farmers must file their acreage report with FSA by next Tuesday, June 15, 2021.
For additional details about the program and producer eligibility, click here.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many producers to lose revenue which made it financially challenging for them to maintain cover crop systems. The PCCP mirrors popular premium rebate programs in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana that support farmers who use cover crops as part of their rotations. However, unlike these programs, the PCCP is being offered retroactively as a relief program to farmers who planted cover crops this year.
Farmers have long known the benefits of cover crops and their value is even more evident today as farmers are up against climate change driven floods, drought, and unpredictable weather. Cover crop adoption is an essential practice to build resilient systems and mitigate risk. There is a strong body of research which demonstrates the numerous benefits that planting cover crops has on crop yields, soil health, and farmers’ bottom lines. The announcement of the PCCP indicates that USDA recognizes the data presented by the agricultural research community and the wisdom of farmers who use cover crops.
Despite these benefits, many obstacles remain to broad cover crop adoption. Just over 4.5 percent of land in farms is planted with cover crops – 15 million acres out of 320 million acres of harvested cropland in 2017. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is clearer than ever that there is room for dramatic improvement in these rates and that USDA should support farmers to adopt conservation practices that increase resilience in the face of production and market risk for individual farm businesses as well as our entire food system.
NSAC has long advocated for aligning crop insurance with conservation practices. The PCCP is a welcome support to farmers who have been impacted by the pandemic, and may represent an important first step toward aligning crop insurance with soil and water conservation in the future.
The PCCP could cost up to an estimated $75 million (out of the $6.5 billion available through PAP) if all producers who planted cover crops on 15 millions acres received the PCCP premium. However, not all farmers who plant cover crops are enrolled in eligible crop insurance policies; in fact, farmers who adopt cover crops and additional practices to diversify production appear less likely than conventional farmers to enroll in crop insurance.
For these farmers, especially small farmers, diversified and integrated production strategies are natural risk-management strategies.
If these farmers were to enroll in crop insurance, the Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program is a natural choice tailored to sustainable producers. WFRP is the only crop-neutral revenue insurance policy available nationwide designed to protect a farmer’s entire operation – insuring all crops and livestock under one policy, not just one crop. NSAC is thus disappointed that WFRP is explicitly excluded from the list of eligible federal crop insurance policies under PCCP.
“Encouraging cover crops is a good thing,” said Scott Marlow, Long Rows Consulting, in response to the program’s announcement and its exclusion of WFRP. “But we have to be careful that rewarding the adoption of one facet of resilience (cover crops) in one sector of agriculture (crops eligible for standard crop insurance) isn’t reinforcing the drive toward industrialization that got us here in the first place. Are we creating an economic disadvantage against more fundamental elements of systemic resilience like crop diversity, integration of crops and livestock, higher-value and more diverse markets, and diverse farm scales?”
The PCCP was announced on June 1, 2021, giving farmers just two weeks until the June 15 deadline to adjust course at one of the busiest times of the growing season. The accelerated acreage reporting deadline will be a challenge for many farmers who were not already planning to submit their forms early, especially considering FSA County Offices are not yet open to the public without appointments per COVID-19 safety protocol.
NSAC understands that this is a new program and that an early deadline for farmers to submit acreage reports will enable RMA to process payments before the August 15, 2021 premium billing date, but insufficient notice will hamper the reach and effectiveness of this program. While PCCP is looking at planting decisions made in the past, NSAC hopes that USDA will use this as a first step and extend the program to incentivize cover crop adoption into future planting years.
The PCCP will be a welcome support for eligible farmers who have been impacted by the pandemic as they work to maintain their cover crop systems. But this model is not perfect and it is important to recognize its limited ability to bolster food system resilience.
In the short-term, NSAC urges USDA to implement comparable support for farmers enrolled in crop insurance policies that are excluded from the PCCP, including WFRP, that better serve small, mid-size, diversified, and organic producers. In addition, we recommend that RMA consider extending the June 15 acreage reporting deadline given insufficient notice at the height of the growing season for farmers and reduced accessibility of FSA County Offices.
Looking ahead, there is a distinct possibility that levels of PCCP participation may be used as a proxy for producer interest or as a test run before USDA introduces a permanent iteration of this program. If true, NSAC recommends that any future program in this mold include WFRP as an eligible crop insurance policy. In addition, we feel that advance acreage reporting submission will only curtail participation, particularly among small or low resource farmers for whom the administrative burden is considerable, and should be extended to match the normal acreage reporting deadline.
Fundamentally, the PCCP is a relief program designed to retroactively reward farmers who planted cover crops during a financially difficult year. NSAC strongly recommends that any future program created in the mold of PCCP be designed as a proactive initiative to encourage more farmers to adopt cover crops, as well as continue to reward farmers who maintain cover crop systems.
While a $5 per acre premium is a relatively small reward that may not meaningfully offset the significant upfront costs that farmers face when adopting cover crops for the first time, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program survey suggests that a discount through crop insurance would be one of farmers’ preferred types of conservation payment.
These recommendations to improve PCCP, or shape a future iteration of the program, should be undertaken as a suite of additional actions which USDA could use to more effectively incentivize conservation practices as risk management tools. NSAC and our member organizations look forward to continuing to work with USDA to implement meaningful reforms that align conservation programs with crop insurance to actively bolster the long-term resilience and competitiveness of our country’s farmers.
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.
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.
Local and Regional Markets
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.”
Beginning and Early Career Farmers
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!
The election season is well underway.
As you ponder who will get your vote in the upcoming election, OEFFA, in partnership with the Ohio Farmers Market Network, Produce Perks Midwest, and the Ohio Food Policy Network, compiled an Ohio Candidate Questionnaire—a list of seven questions you can use to find out where each candidate stands on important food and farm issues related to climate, food access, and local food systems.
There is an urgent need to help candidates understand the challenges Ohioans face every day in accessing healthy food, as well as those faced by farmers working to provide that food.
Hold your candidates accountable this season and ask them to champion your priorities!
How to Contact Your Candidates
Here are some ways you can contact your local candidates to learn about their positions:
- Attend an in-person or online debate or town hall
- Call or email them
- Post to their social media page or tag them on social media
More Candidate Resources
In July 2020, OEFFA and our partners released “Opportunity in a Time of Crisis: Recommendations for Building a More Resilient Ohio Food System.” This report is another resource to reference as you interact with candidates.
Finding Your Candidates
Finding your candidates’ schedules can be difficult! Check out your candidates’ websites and Facebook pages for their latest news or call their office if necessary. Other helpful resources are: County Boards of Elections; County Democratic Party Events page; and County Republican Party Events page.
Voting in Ohio
Have a question about voting in Ohio? Visit the Ohio Secretary of State website today.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process with us! Please contact us to let us know what you hear!
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!