Regenerative Farming Could Get a Big USDA Boost

Maryland’s regenerative Clagett Farm. Image: ODP

In the United States, agriculture accounts for 10% of overall greenhouse gas emissions in addition to other pollution issues. Yet as Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, said during his confirmation hearing, “I think agriculture is probably the first and best way to begin getting some wins in this climate area,” a commitment that President Biden also holds.

However, as the Thompson Reuters Foundation explained, the Biden administration will need to persuade farmers, most of whom do not support him politically, of the benefits of making shifts to more climate-friendly farming practices.

  • According to a poll last October by the trade publication Farm Journal, 85% of 1,311 farmers surveyed suggested they would vote for Trump, who had no national plan to deal with climate change.

Why This Matters: As Greenbiz wrote last year, it’s no secret it’s been difficult to get farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices. Many farmers’ barrier to adopting regenerative practices is the costs are obvious, while the benefits can feel vague, confusing, and far-off. Breaking these barriers and creating incentives and support for farmers to switch to more climate-friendly practices is a top priority for the Biden administration. But farmers are beginning to weigh their options, especially as climate change increasingly impacts their crops.

The Biden Admin’s Commitment: President Biden pledged to expand and fortify the  Conservation Stewardship Program, which supports farm income through payments based on farmers’ practices to protect the environment, including carbon sequestration.

  • Additionally, the USDA could potentially set up a carbon bank funded by the Commodity Credit Corporation.

Farmers can also, with the help of the government, begin reducing their carbon intensity through regenerative and more efficient farming practices as well as incorporating renewable energy in their operations.

 

Why Isn’t There More of This Type of Farming?

  • Firstly, not every farmer has the knowledge and support to begin a regenerative farm, explained Michael Heller, who helps run the Maryland Grazers Network–a mentorship program that pairs experienced livestock, dairy, sheep, and poultry producers with farmers who want to learn new grazing skills.  This network was the inspiration behind a recently formed regional group called the Mountains-to-Bay Grazing Alliance composed of grazing groups in MD, VA, PA, and WV. The hope is that more states develop similar programs. Mentorship programs like this are limited and not available to all farmers interested in diversifying their farming practices.
  • Secondly, federal farm subsidies run against small farmers. Vegetable farmers don’t get subsidies, and those looking to turn to regenerative farming have limited resources to make the switch—USDA’s SARE grants aren’t close to being funded well enough to promote regenerative farming on a large scale.
  • Lastly, in our society, farmers are rewarded by yield and not so much by the eco-friendly methods used to grow produce and raise sustainable livestock. We must create more financial incentives for farmers to shift to this way of farming–which is something a carbon bank and expanded markets for regenerative farming can bring.

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