by Paul Weinstein
This article addresses the 2023 Farm Bill, clarifying: what it is; how it impacts farmers and consumers; what might be different in 2023, particularly related to regenerative agriculture; and what can you do to be a part of the solution.
What is the Farm Bill?
The Farm Bill is an omnibus bill (meaning it covers many different areas of legislation) that governs much of the US food and agriculture system. With provisions for nutrition, crop insurance, conservation, rural investment, land access and more, this important legislation has considerable ramifications for farmer livelihoods, the environment, and national food security and access. Renewed and updated every 5-7 years, the 2023 Farm Bill will last through at least 2028.
The Farm Bill is developed and written by the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, and is voted upon by both Chambers of Congress. However, all members of Congress vote to pass the Farm Bill, and they all have the opportunity to influence the development of the Farm Bill by signaling their support for key issues. Citizen feedback and comment is also important. You can contact your local legislators to show your support (or disapproval) of this bill -action items can be found on our advocacy page.
How does the Farm Bill impact farmers?
The Farm Bill impacts nearly every aspect of farmers’ lives and work, influencing what they produce, in what quantities, and the practices that they are able to implement on their lands.
By giving funds and subsidies to specific crops and farming practices, the Farm Bill essentially sets the priorities of the U.S. agricultural system. For example, under the current bill, regenerative agriculture practices which help rebuild the soil currently receive less than 1% of the overall funding; far less than the support provided to conventional agriculture. As a result, farmers and ranchers making the effort to build and rebuild healthy soils are not incentivized in the work and, in fact, can be discouraged from it.
How does the Farm Bill impact consumers?
The Farm Bill affects our entire food system–from how food is grown, what types of food is available, and who has access to it. Commodity crops such as corn, wheat and soy, often used in heavily processed food, are currently strongly subsidized. Fruit and vegetable production receive almost no subsidies, making produce comparatively more expensive than processed foods. Importantly, the Farm Bill helps 42 million Americans put food on the table through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), providing essential nutrition to families in need. In fact, over 75% of all Farm Bill funding goes toward SNAP and other critical nutrition programs like WIC.
How can the 2023 Farm Bill support regenerative agriculture and how can you make a difference?
By applying pressure to key leverage points within the agriculture system like- education, infrastructure, and crop insurance, to name a few – we can create a system that works for farmers of all scales, but that rewards those who are doing better for the planet, the land, and the people.
Farm Bills in the past have focused on conventional farming and commodity crops, it is time regenerative farming practices are supported by the Farm Bill.
Regenerate America™ is a campaign focused on influencing the next Farm Bill. They have the following six policy priorities:
1.) Expand & Refine Education, Technical Service & Implementation Assistance
Our current conventional agriculture education and technical assistance systems are not adequately addressing precious topsoil loss.. America’s farmers, and the institutions that support them, need urgent access to updated education that promotes resilient, healthy soil and the transition to regenerative agriculture. Soil health-focused education is the first essential step in rebuilding the resilience of our family farms, while rebuilding soils, restoring biodiversity, replenishing fresh water sources, and sequestering carbon.
2.) Ensure Equitable Opportunity & Access to All USDA Programs
The widespread adoption of soil health and regenerative agriculture requires that USDA programs provide equal opportunity and access to all producers.
3.) Improve Regional Access to Infrastructure, Processing & Markets
Investing in local and regional access to infrastructure, processing and markets will help regenerative producers make new products available and meet the increasing consumer demand for their products, while reducing foreign supply chain dependence and increasing domestic food supply.
4.) Increase Access to Healthy & Regionally Sourced Food
Current federal nutrition programs benefit large producers and corporate retailers over small producers and local markets. By shifting purchasing power to within regional, regenerative systems, nutrition programs can increase access to fresh, healthy, grown-in-America food, while driving larger direct markets for regenerative producers.
5.) Increase Farmland Preservation & Access, Including for Historically Underserved Producers
Secure land access is the number one challenge facing young and aspiring farmers.
6.) Incentivize Soil Health & Risk Mitigation Through Federal Crop Insurance & Lending
The finance and insurance products that farmers rely on have immense potential to support a transition to regenerative agriculture, but current policies have created a system that often undermines, or even actively prevents, common sense soil health practices that reduce risk on farms – resulting in large scale soil loss and land degradation at an enormous cost to US taxpayers. Crop insurance and lending policy must be adjusted to support regenerative agriculture by removing outdated barriers and creating incentives that recognize the risk-reduction benefits of soil health and conservation management practices.
To learn more about the 2023 Farm Bill campaign, go to https://regenerateamerica.com.
The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on September 14 focusing on regenerative agriculture which can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN3EJi3HOLw.