On September 5, panelists Suellyn Shupe (advocate for sustainable agriculture), Steve Edwards (family farmer and past president OEFFA), and Polly Campbell (Regional Food Policy Council) informed the Miami Group of the importance of the 2023 update of the U.S. Farm Bill, one of the largest single programs of the federal government and how the Sierra Club can impact some drastically needed changes.
What’s at stake? Agriculture is one of the main causes of climate change. About 24% of greenhouse gas that is generated in the U.S. can be attributed to farms, especially factory farms or CAFOs. Runoff from these factory farms pollutes our water; pesticides pollute our air; fossil fuel-based fertilizers damage the soil. Of the $428 billion projected funding for 2023, $325 billion is allotted to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); $38.5 billion to crop insurance (subsidies to industrial farms). Only 7% goes to conservation; 7% to commodities (Whole Farm Revenue protection); and less than 1% goes to things like forestry, horticulture, research, rural development & family farms.
The Sierra Club is a strong supporter of agriculture policies and practices that promise to provide abundant healthful food, fiber and other services for all communities while maintaining the fertility of the soil and protecting the Earth’s climate and the native diversity of plants and animals:
- Conservation programs: The Sierra Club would like to see increased baseline funding for conservation programs and the hiring of more staff to support farmers in accessing conservation programs and implementing environmentally sustainable projects.
- Regenerative agriculture: Improve and increase funding for conservation programs, promote regenerative organic agriculture, and reduce water pollution. This includes moving away from funding industrial corn, soy, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
- Food security: Lower barriers to SNAP benefits, boost funding for local food promotion, sourcing programs, and procurement. Support small BIPOC and beginning farmers and ranchers through land access, debt relief, support for PFAS-impacted farmers, and integrating the Justice 40 Initiative into the USDA’s programs.
- Water conservation: Improve water quality and soil health by encouraging farmers to plant cover crops, prioritizing the protection of drinking water, and driving climate-smart agriculture practices through new soil health initiatives to sequester carbon.
- Equity: Include set-asides for research funding and increased funding to HBCUs and Tribal Colleges. Expand Tribal access to conservation funding to include traditional conservation practices.
- Grazing/livestock: Exclude CAFO projects (e.g., manure lagoons, animal mortality) from Environmental Quality Incentive Projects.
- Pollinators and native plants: Expand the Solar Habitat Pollinator Program and require native plant usage, boost CRP funding and increase CRP Grasslands minimum acreage enrollment, and fight any bad pesticide riders. Implement the National Seed Strategy and require native plant usage in USDA programs.
- Public lands: Put together a bipartisan package of wilderness designations and lands protection bills that: includes bills such as the Virginia Wilderness Additions Act and Land Between the Lakes Recreation and Heritage Act and others.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and can be reached at https://www.brown.senate.gov/.