A Year in Review: Wins and Reflections for Sustainable Agriculture in 2021
December 23, 2021
As this unpredictable year comes to a close and we look to the future, here at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) we’re taking a look back at our coalition’s hard-fought wins towards building a more sustainable, equitable food and farm system in 2021.
Build Back Better through Budget Reconciliation
NSAC spent much of 2021 organizing to ensure Congress made once-in-a-generation investments to tackle the climate crisis through budget reconciliation. Thanks to our advocacy, the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) includes approximately $90 billion in critical food and farm system investments, many with a strong climate change focus. Unfortunately, Congressional efforts to pass BBBA – the budget reconciliation package – before the end of the year have stalled. While the fate of the BBBA is uncertain, NSAC remains cautiously optimistic and will continue to advocate for the important investments included in the bill. A more comprehensive look at how the food and agriculture portions of the Build Back Better Act have evolved can be found here.
The Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020, signed into law December 28th, 2020, contained a number of major investments for food & agriculture, including program improvements compared to the previous coronavirus package, many of which reflected major NSAC priorities and programs that could support more sustainable, equitable, and just food systems. Specifically, the bill contained nearly $26 billion in support for agriculture to be split equally between anti-hunger and nutrition programs and farm and food programs. NSAC has been working throughout 2021 to help ensure program spending from this bill is distributed promptly and equitably, including through direct farmer payments and through one-time funding increases to programs like the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) and Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (FOTO).
The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law March 11, 2021, provided significant funding and additional resources to help farmers mitigate the prolonged impacts of this pandemic, including marginalized communities who were impacted the most. This included critical debt relief resources for farmers of color and new investments in supply chain safety and resilience for workers and farmers. NSAC members and staff worked to ensure that the USDA programs developed from this bill, including grant and loan programs to support small and mid-sized processors and enhancements to local and regional food procurement programs, build towards a more resilient, regional food system.
The Pandemic Response and Safety (PRS) Grant Program, announced in October, will make more than $650 million in aid to food processors, distributors, farmers markets, and producers available to those who have been impacted by the pandemic. NSAC engaged with USDA to ensure that there was certainty around the types of the expenses that were eligible for reimbursement, that paperwork required was appropriate for even the smallest producers, and that farmers markets could participate fully.
Significant Investment in Training Next-Generation Farmers and Ranchers, announced in October 2021, USDA is providing funding for 140 organizations and institutions that teach and train beginning farmers and ranchers. This investment was a result of new funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021. Several NSAC members were among the grantees including Kansas Rural Center, National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Land for Good, Georgia Organics, and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.
Competition and Consolidation
Livestock Consolidation and Concentration have been issues of concern for NSAC members for decades, but they are resurgent in Washington, D.C this year as President Biden signed an Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, signaling a whole of government effort to address concentration and consolidation in US markets, including in agriculture. NSAC staff and members have worked with allied groups and USDA political and professional staff to inform the much-anticipated Packers and Stockyards Act rule expected early in 2022.
An Opportunity to Reform Crop Insurance began when USDAannounced the new Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP) in June 2021. The program offered a $5 per acre premium discount to producers who planted qualifying cover crops during the 2021 crop year and enrolled in eligible federal crop insurance policies. The PCCP was administered by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and used funds from the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers (PAP) program. NSAC has long advocated for aligning crop insurance with conservation practices. While imperfect, the PCCP was a welcome support for farmers and may represent an important next step toward aligning crop insurance with soil and water conservation programs in the future, a key element of NSAC proposals to reform crop insurance.
The Appropriations Virtual Farmer Fly-In, hosted in April 2021, brought together farmers, ranchers, and researchers from ten states to discuss agriculture appropriations for the 2022 fiscal year (FY22) with their Congressional delegations. The primary focus was the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) program, a long-standing priority program of NSAC members, which is slated to receive increased funding for FY22 thanks to this advocacy. The pandemic continues to reshape how grassroots work is accomplished and virtual fly-ins offer the opportunity for farmer advocates, who might not have time during their growing season to travel to DC in person, to participate in advocacy opportunities and make their voices heard by policy makers.
The Agriculture Resilience Act Virtual Farmer Fly-In, hosted in June 2021 after the reintroduction of the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA), built on the success of the earlier Appropriations fly in. The virtual farmer “fly-in” on climate and agriculture brought together farmers and advocates from 12 states who held 17 meetings with lawmakers to ask them to support the ARA and its bold vision of a climate-friendly future for agriculture. NSAC continues to work to make certain that farmers are at the center of our national response to climate change and took this opportunity to share stories around farmers’ role in tackling the climate crisis.
Organics and Research
Significant Funding for Organic Cost-share and Transition was announced in November 2021, when USDA created the Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP) and pledged $20 million in pandemic assistance to cover certification, education, and other expenses for agricultural producers who are certified organic or transitioning to organic. NSAC members continue to urge the USDA to provide greater support for organic farmers and ranchers and are working to ensure that USDA’s broader plan to support producers transitioning to organic facilitate is comprehensive and accessible to everyone, especially BIPOC growers who have described difficulties accessing certification services.
First Ever SARE Briefing was co-sponsored by NSAC and SARE and the briefing showcased the impact SARE has had on supporting farmers as they overcame production challenges and worked to educate the next generation farmers. NSAC has been advocating for SARE to receive the full funding of $60 million authorized by Congress over 30 years ago. The SARE virtual briefing underscored just how important the program has been, and how much more it can do to help farmers and ranchers seeking to build the resilience of their operations and adapt to, and ultimately mitigate, the impacts of climate change.
As we put this tumultuous and unpredictable year behind us, we recognize there are more challenges ahead. But those challenges can also be opportunities and so we take this time to celebrate the hard-fought victories of this coalition as we prepare to build on them in 2022. We can’t do our work without the support and engagement of our members, allies, champions, and supporters – without you.