We need a transformative Farm Bill

September 26, 2022 6:00 am

Cattle are grazing a cover crop field. Photo courtesy of Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz.

On a beautiful summer evening in mid-August, 141 Land Stewardship Project members and supporters gathered on Legvold Farms in Northfield to call for transformational change in the federal Farm Bill.

This law is set to be reauthorized in the fall of 2023, and Congress is already considering what will be included. Now is the time for farmers, consumers and anyone else who wants a sustainable food and farm system to speak out. 

LSP works with thousands of farmers throughout the Midwest, and their message is clear — we want a Farm Bill that delivers for rural and urban communities, food system workers and the land. 

The Farm Bill is reauthorized approximately every five years and has a significant impact on what’s grown on the landscape and who grows it. It has lasting implications for soil health and water quality, has critical racial equity and climate resiliency impacts, and is tied to the economic health of rural communities. The 2023 Farm Bill offers a critical opportunity to create agricultural policy that is good for the land, people, rural communities and our food and farming system. 

Based on a three-state survey with over 700 responses and eight listening sessions, the Land Stewardship Project developed a 2023 Farm Bill Platform, which we released at the August event.

The first issue the platform addresses is consolidation. Consolidation of farms leads to consolidation of all food businesses and the decline of vibrant rural communities. These impacts also extend to food system workers, consumers, and the overall resiliency of our food supply. Nowhere is this consolidation starker than in our meat, poultry and dairy production and processing sectors. 

Of all the categories of Farm Bill survey respondents — 50% or more found maintaining consistent access to slaughter facilities “somewhat,” “very,” or “extremely” difficult.

Among other things, LSP is calling for a restoration of competition to the marketplace and a leveling of the playing field for small farmers and ranchers, as well as a breaking up of monopolies and enforcement of antitrust laws. 

The 2023 Farm Bill must also address conservation and climate. Farmers are on the front lines of the climate crisis, which impacts not only our environment but also the ability of small and mid-sized farms to succeed. 

In the past five years, 90% of survey respondents experienced more severe weather events and 91% have experienced extreme temperature swings — 84% believe these effects are due to climate change.

LSP is calling for the Farm Bill to create funding streams for new and innovative sustainable practices and to eliminate funding for practices that harm rural communities and the environment. 

We also need crop insurance reform

Only 21% of Farm Bill survey respondents reported using crop insurance programs. At the same time, approximately 10% of farms nationwide receive 60% of total farm subsidies.

Crop insurance is an engine that drives farmers’ land use and cropping decisions, and those decisions often perpetuate consolidation. Over the past 15 to 20 years, federally subsidized crop insurance has artificially reduced risk, enabling the largest operations to expand their acreage (and putting the financial burden on taxpayers), which increases land access challenges for small and medium-sized farms. Common-sense limits on crop insurance premium subsidies for the largest operations are a no-brainer.

Another enormously important area that needs to be addressed in the Farm Bill are issues impacting young, beginning and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers.

In our survey, over half of respondents found purchasing affordable land “somewhat,” “very,” or “extremely” difficult. In addition, of current farmers who have sought out loans to finance their farm or ranch business, 32% reported having been denied a loan. Sixty percent of those rejected believe they were unsuccessful in obtaining a loan because the loan officer did not understand their farming practices or business model.

Land access inequities in the agricultural sector are stark, and BIPOC survey respondents were 60% more likely to never have received communication from USDA about programs. 

We need a Farm Bill that provides more and culturally-appropriate technical assistance services while  creating pathways to support land transition, apprenticeship/mentorship, and legacy planning work. 

Finally, LSP members are calling for healthy, community-based food systems. The Farm Bill is also a major food security bill, and we understand how important and interconnected agricultural policy and nutrition programs are in facilitating access to fresh, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods.

To learn more about LSP’s Farm Bill Platform, read the entire executive summary, here.

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Bonnie Haugen
Bonnie Haugen

Bonnie Haugen is a grazing dairy farmer and Land Stewardship Project Farm Bill Organizing Committee member based in Canton, Minnesota. Bonnie and her husband, Vance, started Springside Farm in 1993.

Sarah Goldman
Sarah Goldman

Sarah Goldman is a policy organizer at the Land Stewardship Project, which organizes to create just food and farming systems and prosperous rural communities.