WASHINGTON — American Farmland Trust released its 2023 Farm Bill advocacy platform on July 26 as part of a virtual event. The platform consists of a series of policy recommendations to Congress focused on supporting farmers and ranchers in protecting their land from development, combating climate change, and enabling a diverse new generation of farmers to better access land and build viable businesses.
“The Farm Bill, which is passed once every five years, is the single most influential piece of federal legislation in food and agriculture,” said AFT President and CEO John Piotti. “AFT has a long history of advocacy and bipartisan coalition-building. Coupled with our policy recommendations—developed with input from producers and experts across the country—AFT will help ensure that the 2023 Farm Bill sets agriculture on a path towards a more resilient, profitable, and equitable future.”
The event and its speakers underscored some of the most significant challenges facing agriculture and the food system today, and outlined changes to the next Farm Bill that could help address them.
Sheryl Hagen-Zakarison, a grain farmer in Washington State, discussed her experiences dealing with climate change, including the recent historic heat wave and drought when she was only able to harvest ten percent of her crops. In 2019, she began transitioning her farm to more agroecological practices in order to reduce input costs and build resilience to increasing temperatures and extreme weather. Her transition has been aided by Farm Bill conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program and technical assistance from USDA NRCS. Recognizing how critical it is for producers to have trusted information and support as they take on new practices, Hagen-Zakarison is working with other farmers to build a peer-to-peer network in her community.
Climate change is wreaking havoc on farms across the nation, bringing everything from higher temperatures to flooding, drought, and extreme weather events. In 2020 alone, weather and climate-related disasters cost farmers and ranchers $3.6 billion in losses.
“Farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of climate change’s impacts,” said Samantha Levy, AFT’s Conservation and Climate Policy Manager. “However, farmers and ranchers also hold the key to tackling climate change through practices that build resilience and sequester carbon. We owe it to them, and to the future, to ensure that they have the resources and support they need in the next Farm Bill to implement these practices.”
Moses Momanyi, a Minnesota farmer who also runs a farm incubator program for producers of African descent called Kilimo Minnesota, addressed his own challenges accessing land. With agricultural land at record prices – and only 23 percent of farmland being sold on the open market – young, beginning, and historically marginalized producers often struggle to find affordable farmland. In addition, Momanyi highlighted the importance of business technical assistance – such as business and marketing planning, financial training, support navigating regulations and government programs, and assistance finding farmland – to helping smaller-scale producers build viable businesses.
“The pandemic was a stark reminder that, in order to weather disruptions, farmers need to be savvy business operators,” said Andrew Bahrenburg, AFT’s Deputy Policy Director. “Business technical assistance is a proven way to help farmers and food businesses increase profitability, survive unforeseen market challenges, and capitalize on new opportunities. It’s clear that the resiliency of our food supply chain relies on scaling up those resources in the next Farm Bill.”
Doug Wolfgang, Bureau Director with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, discussed his state’s long and successful farmland protection efforts. He noted the role that agricultural conservation easements play in ensuring food security, and in enabling producers to reinvest in their operations while making land more affordable for the next generation. Wolfgang stressed the importance of federal partnership, especially through the Farm Bill’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
AFT research has found that from 2001-2016, 11 million acres of agricultural land were paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that jeopardize agriculture, with an additional loss of 18.4 million acres expected by 2040 without additional policy actions.
“We are in the midst of a huge generational transfer of agricultural land,” said Cris Coffin, AFT’s Senior Policy Advisor. “With as much as forty percent of farm and ranch land changing hands by 2035, the policy steps we take now will determine whether this vital national resource remains in agriculture or is forever lost to development.”
AFT’s 2023 recommendations are the result of a year-long development process. In spring 2022, AFT hosted a series of 16 workshops—two for each AFT region—to hear firsthand stories and collect feedback on its policy recommendations from farmers, landowners, technical assistance providers, NGO leaders and more. This feedback was instrumental in not just developing policy recommendations, but also in better understanding the need for immediate action.
“We want to thank the many farmers, ranchers, non-profit leaders, and other stakeholders that participated in the process of developing these recommendations,” said Tim Fink, AFT’s Policy Director. “We now look forward to working closely with Congress and our allies in forging a Farm Bill that meets the many challenges facing agriculture today.”
Summaries of AFT’s policy recommendations can be found here. The virtual launch event recording will be posted here. In the coming weeks, AFT will release a series of white papers that will provide more details and analysis supporting its policy recommendations.
The Farm Bill is a 1,000+ page piece of legislation that directs nearly all US farm and food policy, from major programs like crop insurance and nutrition programs, to smaller programs that support beginning farmers or agricultural research. AFT helped create the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title in 1985 and has continued to play an active role in this and other critical titles.
— American Farmland Trust