NSAC's Blog

How the Biden-Harris Administration Can Support a More Sustainable and Resilient Food System

December 1, 2020

Sunrise over the field of blooming clover plants.

Nearly a month after the Presidential election and with the transition of the Presidency now formally underway, stakeholders from nearly every industry are wasting no time in making sure their priorities are at the top of an ever growing to-do list for the incoming Administration. From establishing a national plan to address the worsening coronavirus pandemic to re-entering global climate negotiations, the Biden-Harris Administration will face a daunting list of urgent national and international issues to prioritize during their first 100 days in office.  

Over the past year, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has been working with our members from across the country to identify the most pressing issues facing the sustainable agriculture community that we believe the next Administration must prioritize in order to rebuild our food system. We have come up with over two hundred actionable, policy recommendations that we will be pressing the Biden-Harris Administration to move forward on as soon as they are sworn into office in the new year. At the top of the list are issues like addressing the climate crisis, building a more resilient food supply chain, addressing longstanding issues of racial inequities, strengthening anti-trust enforcement, and scaling up investments in public research.

NSAC’s transition recommendations are divided into the following themes:

A summary of key NSAC priorities for the Biden-Harris Administration is included below. For a full list of recommendations, see NSAC’s Transition Briefing Papers here.

Biden-Harris Commitments to Sustainable Agriculture

The Biden-Harris Plan To Build Back Better (BBB) in Rural America is ambitious in breadth and scope and seeks to address many of the persistent issues that have challenged rural communities and agriculture for decades. Their plan lays out commitments on job creation and support for rural families, investments in Main Street economic development, renewed commitments to public institutions and education, a promise to advance racial equity and tear down structural racism in food systems, and an ironclad commitment to ‘build a bright future for rural communities by investing in the next generation of agriculture and conservation.’

We are pleased to see agriculture and racial equity central to Biden-Harris campaign pledges to tackle once they take office. The sustainable agriculture community knows all too well that while our current food system has been lauded for its singular focus on producing the most safe, abundant, and affordable food supply, the ongoing pandemic has exposed its longstanding inherent vulnerabilities, unsustainability, and systemic inequities. NSAC believes that at this critical moment in our nation’s history, as we seek to rebuild our country and our food system, we have a unique opportunity to begin to address longstanding issues and inequities that have plagued our nation’s health, our environment, and our rural communities.

With these goals in mind, NSAC has identified dozens of policy recommendations for how the incoming Administration can realize goals they laid out in the Biden-Harris Plan through concrete policy and administrative action within the first 100 days (and beyond) of the next Administration. We hope that these ideas will begin an ongoing dialogue that can guide our collective work to build a more just and resilient food and agriculture system that is better equipped to confront the challenges facing our nation.

Centering Racial Equity

At the core of the Biden-Harris plan is a call for a dedicated agenda to address longstanding inequities in agriculture and support the rights of Black, Brown and Native farmers. NSAC’s transition recommendations address racial equity across all issues, and charge the incoming Administration with making good on their promise to right the historic wrongs against farmers of color at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). NSAC firmly believes that there cannot be a just, resilient, and sustainable food system without meaningful action to address the systemic and historic inequities embedded within our food and farming system.

Across each of the themes outlined in our transition papers, NSAC includes specific recommendations intended to help the Administration center racial equity in program design and implementation as they staff, engage, prioritize, plan, implement, monitor, and evaluate their work to “Advance racial economic equity in rural America, including by tackling longstanding inequities in agriculture.”

Food Systems to Help Communities Thrive

In the wake of the COVID pandemic and years of policies designed to support our nation’s largest and wealthiest farms, NSAC is looking to the Biden-Harris Administration to make good on their promise to foster the development of regional food systems and rebuild our food system. NSAC lays out recommendations that will help build more robust and resilient supply chains while supporting farmers’ bottom line. These policy options will ultimately help family farmers and small and mid-sized operations thrive and keep pace with the growing demand for healthy and regionally produced food.

NSAC calls for a cross agency ‘Local, Regional, and Resilient’ Initiative to boost community food security and regional infrastructure, and reforms to, and renewed investments in Value Added Producer Grants, Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and Regional Food Systems Partnership Program. Supporting expanded data collection by USDA will strengthen local and regional markets, and providing organic and local pricing information will help ensure that farmers are paid a fair price for their farm goods and are better able to access emergency relief and farm loans.

Fair Markets, Fair Programs, and Fair Access

The Biden-Harris Plan recognizes the need to bring new farmers into agriculture but that there are real challenges for those that do not inherit land. NSAC applauds these commitments to support the next generation of farmers and calls on the Administration to create a longer-term vision for what is truly needed to make farming a viable career for future generations, with a focus on BIPOC farmers. We recommend USDA develop a strategic plan for how to invest in new farmers, launch a USDA-wide initiative to expand opportunities for new farmers and farmers of color, with focus on farm transfer, farmland transition, and farmland access, and quick implementation of the new heirs property relending program and data collection efforts on farmland ownership trends.

The Biden-Harris Plan also recognizes the harmful impacts of concentration in the agricultural sector and the need to strengthen antitrust enforcement to protect our nation’s independent, family farmers. NSAC applauds this commitment to ensuring fair markets and robust antitrust enforcement. In line with that commitment, NSAC urges the incoming Administration to restore the Packers and Stockyards Division (PSD) to a standalone agency within USDA, reverse and mitigate the impacts of consolidation in the agricultural sector, and study the impact on private ownership of farmland caused by increased purchase of prime agriculture lands by private equity firms and other non-farming, corporate entities.

And finally, on the important issues of expanding protections for farm workers, we believe that the Biden-Harris Administration has an opportunity to genuinely reform federal immigration policies. While further action is needed by Congress on comprehensive immigration reform, we include recommendations on what the incoming Administration can do to provide a path for undocumented farmworkers to gain permanent residency, implement more just programs for foreign-born temporary workers, and to protect all who work on our farms from harm. 

Farmer-Centered, Climate-Focused Conservation Programs

Farmers across the country are increasingly realizing the often devastating impacts of climate change on their farms and their livelihoods. The Biden-Harris Plan makes tackling the climate change emergency a key plank of their Administrative platform, and recognizes that the federal government needs to partner with farmers to accelerate progress towards net-zero emissions. NSAC calls on the incoming Administration to make good on this promise by enacting proposals included in the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA). The ARA establishes an ambitious, science-based goal of making U.S. agriculture climate neutral by 2040, and greatly expands investments in USDA research, extension, and conservation programs to build a truly sustainable, climate-resilient, and climate-friendly food and agricultural system.

Specific recommendations for the incoming Administration include centering the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) as USDA’s premier climate program; establishing an FSA team to transform the Conservation Reserve Program into a climate and water quality program; aligning crop insurance Good Farming Practices to better support conservation; improving and accelerating adoption of cropping management plans to build soil health; and creating a the Soil Health and Greenhouse Gas Federal Advisory Committee to ensure all USDA conservation programs align in supporting farmer and rancher efforts to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Supporting Safe Food Producers

Whether it is on the farm or in the development of sustainable and resilient food supply chains, risk and scale appropriate food safety rules and regulations are critical to ensuring family farmers and small and medium-sized operations can thrive – especially those led by beginning, Black, Brown, and Native farmers. Beyond appropriate regulatory frameworks, there is a strong need for targeted financial assistance and training focused on the specific needs of farmers and ranchers serving local and regional markets.

NSAC calls on the next Administration to enact new food safety policies both within USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including improvements to and increased funding for the Food Safety Outreach Program, increased support within USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for small meat processing plants, and expanding and improving the GroupGAP food safety certification option so it’s able to be accessible for more farmers. NSAC also looks to the new Administration to ensure FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule exemptions do not exclude produce grown by farmers of color that is rarely consumed raw, issue clear guidance to State Departments of Agriculture that FDA funds shall not be used to inspect farms that are exempt, and to withdraw the Agricultural Water Requirement.

Science that Serves Farmers

The Biden-Harris Plan pledges to re-invest in agricultural research that benefits the public, not private companies. Increased investments into sustainable agriculture, soil health, and climate mitigation research is critical to ensure that American farmers have the tools they need to become more sustainable, productive, and competitive in a global economy. The sustainable agriculture community believes that agriculture research overseen by USDA should be accessible, equitable, and ensure that researchers and farmers from underrepresented communities also benefit from public research and education dollars.

NSAC will be looking to the Biden-Harris Administration to ramp up investments in public agricultural research with a goal of reaching $1 billion in discretionary funding for USDA competitive grant programs by FY 2024, and increase support for agroecological research and systems-based approaches to mitigating the impacts of the climate crisis on farms and rural communities. NSAC also calls for dedicated funding for plant breeding and cultivar development projects to ensure farmers have seeds that work on their farms, expanded capacity-building grants for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) farmers within key USDA research programs, and committing to research the impacts of climate change on farmers of color, farmworkers and food system workers, as well as low-income communities.

Over the coming months, NSAC will be meeting with members of the Biden-Harris transition and landing teams, as well as key leadership positions within USDA once appointed, to ensure the next Administration makes good on their promises to support a more resilient and equitable food and agriculture system.

For a full list of NSAC’s Administrative recommendations, see NSAC’s Transition Briefing Papers here.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Carousel, Competition & Anti-trust, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Coronavirus, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension

2 responses to “How the Biden-Harris Administration Can Support a More Sustainable and Resilient Food System”

  1. Rebecca Brown says:

    Regarding Science that Serves Farmers, NIFA needs to be permitted to NOT require 100% non-federal match for competitive grant programs such as the SCRI and the NRCS CIG programs. The requirement for match favors research that is of interest to Agribusiness and dis-enfranchises research to assist smaller-scale farmers, including BIPOC farmers and those selling into local food systems, as these farmers are less able to come up with financial support for research.

  2. […] Equity Centered in Presidential Transition Recommendations – NSAC published over two hundred actionable policy recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration to act on as soon as they are sworn into office. At the core of the plan is a call for a dedicated […]