Young farmers are working hard to build solutions to the climate crisis and climate resilient communities. Agriculture does not need to exist in opposition to climate action; in fact, agriculture can be at the heart of policy change in support of climate resiliency. Eighty-eight percent of young farmers under 40 who responded to our 2022 National Young Farmer Survey attribute changes in weather patterns to climate change. In our 2020 survey of policy issues, our members identified climate action as their number one priority and selected climate change as one of five pillars in our Federal Policy Platform.
Water is a critical resource for farmers and ranchers, and has been deeply impacted by the climate crisis. Producers and communities in the arid Southwest face challenges in accessing water, as state governments cut back on water usage due to ongoing drought across the region. Other regions are experiencing changing precipitation patterns such as severe rain and floods that can be as devastating as droughts for farms and ranches. Young Farmers believes that our water systems should foster vibrant agricultural communities, healthy ecosystems, and water justice for Indigenous communities and other people of color.
Young farmers and ranchers are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and urgently need concerted policy action. They are committing their time, energy, and their farms to form part of our national response to the climate emergency. Young farmers need policies that encompass the depth of the climate crisis, the possibility of climate resilience, and that support both vibrant agricultural communities and healthy watersheds. Climate and water policies should focus on expanding and supporting the number of young and BIPOC farmers already following climate-smart agriculture guidelines while making it easier for other farmers to transition to using climate-smart practices.
Improve access to USDA conservation programs for water and climate resilience
- Increase investment in conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
- Establish an EQIP initiative or program to make cost-share dollars more accessible to young and BIPOC farmers. The modified program should streamline the conservation planning and application process to reduce the paperwork involved for both small or diversified acreage producers, and for NRCS staff in processing contracts for such operations. It should also include more flexible land tenure requirements, to allow producers with temporary land tenure arrangements to access cost-share assistance.
- Increase incentive payments for implementation of climate-resilient practices to ensure limited-resource farmers can participate in cost-share programs. Automatically provide EQIP advance payments for Socially Disadvantaged and Economically Distressed producers.
- Allow for the use of reused or recycled materials within NRCS practice standards to bring down costs for producers.
Often, small and diversified farms are denied access to conservation programs because they cannot compete against larger operations for available funding. NRCS should explore how to replicate successes, such as the EQIP High Tunnel Initiative, to modify existing programs to meet the needs of young, beginning, and BIPOC farmers. Programs should be easy to apply for, designed specifically for small, diversified operations, and prioritize climate-resilient practices.
Ensure that USDA resources and programs are culturally appropriate for Indigenous and farmworker populations
- Adjust EQIP practice standards to better accommodate cultural practices, such as Indigenous and acequia conservation practices.
- Provide funding for technical assistance to be culturally appropriate and invest in local experts and communities through cooperative agreements with tribes, acequias, and other experts.
- Support Indigenous communities in securing greater land sovereignty, and recognize traditional land management practices as the powerful tools they are for enhancing climate resilience.
Resources available from the NRCS are sometimes not accessible or not applicable to Indigenous communities or other communities of color. Land tenure, practice standards, and cultural barriers can pose challenges to accessing NRCS programs for these communities, perpetuating systems of inequity within our farming system. NRCS should examine these barriers and modify programs, as well as resource the communities directly to provide technical assistance.
Improve outreach to young and BIPOC farmers
- Require the collection and public reporting of demographic data on all conservation programs to better understand how producers who are young and BIPOC are utilizing the conservation programs. USDA should then audit their programs for diversity and inclusivity and make public the results of their findings to address historic and existing racial disparities in federal farm programs.
- Establish a climate advisory committee on climate action at USDA, with positions allocated for young farmers, BIPOC farmers, and farmworkers.
- Adequately resource outreach to BIPOC farming communities and farmworker communities through organizations led by representatives of these constituencies.
- Institute regular reporting practices and engagement processes to inform farming communities of new climate policies.
Still, the biggest challenge producers face in accessing USDA programs is awareness. Nearly three-quarters of young farmers do not know there are USDA programs to assist them. Equitable and culturally appropriate outreach to young and BIPOC farmers, in addition to reduced application requirements and streamlined processes, would help more farmers benefit from federal programs.
Increase Funding for Research on Equitable and Sustainable Land and Water Stewardship
- Prioritize climate research, including farmer-led research and innovation, through programs like the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.
- Prioritize research that helps small-scale, diversified farmers implement conservation practices and measure their climate mitigation impacts through methods with a proven track record of success.
- Ensure that research programs focus on and celebrate the contributions of BIPOC farmers.
- Develop science-based climate-smart agriculture definitions that prioritize practices that afford the greatest climate benefit, such as incorporating cover crops, perennial crops, managed grazing of perennial pasture, and other investments in soil health.
- Provide adequate funding for agricultural research agencies and programs such as the Conservation Innovation Grants, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the Economic Research Service, Climate Hubs, and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
- Within agricultural research funding, prioritize research opportunities on land access and water conservation to better understand the large-scale trends and challenges related to land and water conservation for beginning and BIPOC producers.
Quality research and data is a crucial tool for farmers, advocates, and lawmakers, and we believe that climate action should be science-based and data-driven. Current and comprehensive data is important to understanding the challenges farmers face when building resilience. We must ensure the data collection components of the 2018 Farm Bill are fully implemented and continue to invest in recurring data collection, reporting, and research that helps small-scale, diversified farmers implement conservation practices and measure their climate mitigation impacts.
Support Young Farmers and Farmworkers Facing Disasters
- Support climate justice solutions that target resources to BIPOC farmers by prioritizing both social and economic benefits in conservation programs alongside environmental outcomes. Move away from reimbursement-based payments and provide upfront payments so that farmers and farmworkers are not required to shoulder these costs.
- Protect farmers and farmworkers from hazardous working conditions due to climate change by adopting a federal standard to protect workers from harmful heat conditions and heat stress.
- Codify the new Micro Farm program through the Risk Management Agency to improve access to crop insurance for operations that are diversified, organic, and/or selling in local, regional, and specialty markets.
- Expand direct marketing prices within the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) or allow farmers to use their own yields and historic pricing data to more equitably serve farmers who sell direct-to-consumer or receive a premium on their crops.
- Administer NAP as an on-ramp to more holistic risk management programs such as Whole Farm Revenue Protection program and the Micro Farm program.
- Increase the maximum allowable farm revenue for Socially Disadvantaged and Economically Distressed applicants to the Micro Farm program.
- Ensure that USDA Approved Insurance Providers are fluent in available insurance products and are actively marketing them consistent with USDA policies, as a condition of approval.
- Continue piloting and evaluating programs like the Emergency Relief Program and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that redefine and expand current availability of farm safety nets programs in the face of climate and natural disasters.