Young farmers and ranchers are at a climate crossroads: they work every day on the front lines of the climate crisis, while their stewardship of natural resources is key to combating climate change. It is imperative that Congress take steps to address the climate crisis that puts their operations at risk by empowering them to address environmental concerns head-on. On June 30th, Congress took another step towards that end.
At the beginning of the 116th Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The members of this short-term committee were tasked with investigating and developing policy proposals to address the impending environmental disaster. Since early 2019, the Committee has gathered testimony, public comments, legislative proposals, and data related to climate solutions.
After the coronavirus pandemic caused a delay to the expected report release in March, the Democratic members of the Select Committee on Tuesday released their findings as a 547-page majority staff report. The report, “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America” covers a broad swath of economic sectors and issue areas, including public lands, oceans, environmental justice, healthcare, national security, building, manufacturing, electricity, transportation, and agriculture.
Within the report section on agriculture, entitled “Invest in American Agriculture for Climate Solutions,” the majority members put forward seven overarching policy proposals. Based on comments from the National Young Farmers Coalition, one of these proposals is to support the next generation of farmers to create a fair and equitable food system. Here’s what the committee recommends to achieve that goal:
- Expand the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (“2501 Program”), incorporate climate mitigation and resilience into both programs, and engage with socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in a meaningful process that solicits early input and feedback from representatives of those farmers and ranchers;
- Provide a farmer tax credit for taxpayers who sell farming property to new, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers, and tax credits for new and beginning farmers who purchase agricultural property;
- Provide student loan forgiveness for young, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers;
- Prioritize new, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers’ and ranchers’ participation in the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program;
- Increase USDA staff to provide on-the-ground support, conservation program assistance, and land succession planning;
- Require that all agencies provide technical assistance and training in multiple languages;
- Promote strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies and collaborate on ways USDA can apply traditional knowledge and provide financial and technical assistance to tribal nations to implement climate stewardship practices, including recognizing when traditional conservation practices are substantively equivalent to USDA standards and therefore eligible for federal funding;
- Ensure that tribes have equitable access to, as well as representation and participation in, all climate stewardship initiatives in which states, local governments, and other interested entities can participate; and
- Establish a commission to develop a comprehensive framework to build an equitable climate-friendly food system aimed at increasing adoption of climate stewardship practices; improving local food systems; increasing access to healthy, fresh, and culturally appropriate foods; supporting socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers; and studying the impacts of food production and agricultural operations on environmental justice communities.
Other proposals, and select recommendations of note are listed below:
- Increase agricultural carbon sequestration and resilience through climate stewardship practices
- Dramatically increase funding for climate-smart agricultural activities in working lands programs, including EQIP, CSP, and RCPP, and increase the beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher set-aside in EQIP and CSP
- Reduce administrative barriers to signing up for conservation programs
- Allocate more resources towards supporting insurance options for diversified farmers
- Increase Federal capacity to provide technical assistance to farmers
- Significantly increase support for the NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance program and scale up hiring of NRCS staff
- Provide more financial assistance and support for conservation districts extension services; land-grant universities, including HBCUs and tribal colleges; and other third parties on climate stewardship practices.
- Formally authorize regional USDA Climate Hubs
- Increase funding for the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production
- Preserve farmland from development
- Significantly increase funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
- Reduce agricultural emissions
- Reduce food waste and transportation
- Support on-farm renewable energy and energy efficiency
Although it is unfortunate that the final report, and its solutions to empower young farmers and farmers of color, were not released with bipartisan support, the National Young Farmers Coalition commends this monumental effort from the Select Committee and its staff to present a path forward to address the climate crisis. We especially applaud the inclusion proposals to provide resources to and improve land access and tenure for young farmers and farmers of color and will continue to fight to see these policy changes enacted in Congress.