Farmers are facing a new wave of climate challenges — the 2023 Farm Bill must help them
Farmers in this country have never had it easy. I think back to my grandmother, a tough immigrant from Slovakia who settled in the Midwest and endured hard conditions as a tenant farmer in Illinois and Wisconsin. Battling through the Depression, there were periods without water and without electricity. Once, she watched her farm burn down. Still, she and countless other small farmers toiled to make it work, and we — everybody who relies on our food system — are their beneficiaries.
We live in different times now, but in many ways farming has gotten even harder. Drought, extreme heat, flooding, windstorms, depleted soil and water, as well as a dearth of pollinators are making it more difficult and more expensive for farmers to raise crops and animals. The people who feed our country are at the frontlines of the challenges brought on by the climate crisis, and they need solutions.
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will provide some. It is rightly hailed as the largest climate package in U.S. history, and its investments in farming are a key component. Its $19.5 billion for agricultural conservation programs represents the largest such investment since the Dust Bowl, and it will fund programs that help farmers and ranchers adopt climate-smart practices they need to make our food system and their farms more resilient.
Now, the U.S. has a chance to extend this impact even more. With the farm bill due for renewal by Congress in 2023 — comprehensive agriculture legislation renewed about every five years— businesses are calling on lawmakers to ensure the latest version reorients U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs to further help farmers adopt impactful climate solutions that ensure long-term farm resilience, improving both food security and rural prosperity.
We all depend on our nation’s farmers, and that includes large food and clothing companies that acutely understand the modern challenges facing producers, their supply chains and food sheds.
Many of these companies m are headed to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to ensure farmers have the best resources and tools to protect America’s supply chains from the climate challenges already taking hold.
The top suggestion of these companies is for more “technical assistance” to be made available to help farmers access the programs they need to become climate leaders. Technical assistance has been historically underfunded and oversubscribed — and has not provided enough farmers with sufficient helpful resources, grant-writing support or data to successfully apply for key government programs at the USDA or National Resources Conservation Service. This has especially hurt historically underserved farmers, such as small farmers, beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, as well as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) farmers. Too often, they have been left out of programs that can help bring investment to their farms and rural communities, building a foundation for well-paying jobs and agricultural practices that benefit farmers, workers, residents and consumers.
Companies want to see the 2023 Farm Bill include technical assistance that provides:
- Hotlines and better website services to help farmers apply for relevant NRCS programs
- Support tailored for specific crops and localities
- Programs for underserved and BIPOC farmers, designed and administered by peers and experts with knowledge about available resources and tools
- The creation of a private-sector liaison to help companies navigate USDA programs and help the USDA track matching grants from companies and foundations, which will help increase private investment into farms
Technical assistance can sound a bit, well, technical. But it is crucial to ensuring farmers of all sizes and backgrounds can tap into the programs they’ll need to meet the modern agricultural challenges exacerbated by climate change with the same determination and success as farmers like my grandmother did nearly a century ago. In order to scale up technical assistance, we will need to bring on trusted partners — like community colleges, universities and crop consultants — to provide the support our farmers need. Congress must act to provide this access, and we look forward to working with farmers and the companies that rely on them to ensure these provisions are included in the 2023 farm bill.
Cindy Clark leads the Ceres BICEP Network’s Climate Smart Agriculture and Healthy Soil Working Group, which is made up of food and clothing companies that support legislative and regulatory solutions to advance climate-smart agriculture practices in the United States.