March 19, 2015
On March 18th, independent family farmers and ranchers from across the country traveled to DC to meet with their Congressional members to advocate for critical sustainable agriculture programs. They discussed the importance of federal funding for programs that support working lands conservation, agricultural research, and food safety outreach.
Over the course of the day, the farmers met with their Senators and Representatives to discuss their personal experiences working with sustainable agriculture programs and the benefits of these programs on their farms and ranches. The farmers explained how funding for these programs is an effective investment in rural economies, local food systems, and environmental improvement.
NSAC organized the fly-in to precede the upcoming debates on the agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016. In the past, appropriations bills have short-changed sustainable agriculture research and targeted critical farm bill conservation programs for funding reductions — putting farmers and ranchers at risk across the country.
The fly-in is also timely as it aligns with budget hearings in both the Senate and the House — these hearings could also potentially re-open the Farm Bill, though the outcomes of the budget process remains to be seen. At the time of publication, the draft Senate resolution does not include reconciliation instructions for the Agriculture Committee and the draft House resolution proposes a $1 billion cut, a minimal amount in consideration of total farm bill spending. For more updates on the developing budget situation, refer to NSAC’s blog.
Lauren Errickson of Brooks, Maine was among the participants advocating for agriculture research programs such as the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the importance of food safety training.
Errickson and her husband Bill operate Singing Nettle Farm, a fully horse-powered, completely off the grid certified organic farm on the Central Coast of Maine. They have received many EQIP grants to address issues such as woodlot conservation, pasture improvement, and erosion. EQIP pollinator funding allowed the Erricksons to develop an income-producing cut flower CSA. SARE grants have helped the Erricksons “explore innovative agriculture projects and take research risks.” With the help of their second SARE grant, the Erricksons are currently engaged in research testing the viability of growing fig trees in hoophouses in Maine.
Mark Peterson of Stanton, Iowa also joined NSAC’s fly-in. An adamant champion of cover crops, Peterson grows corn, soybeans, and small grains such as cereal rye and other cover crops on his 500 acre farm. He has utilized the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and has applied for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for the first time this year. Peterson was glad for the opportunity to meet with his hometown neighbor Senator Joni Ernst in her DC office.
“We need programs to motivate farmers. I am a firm believer that if farmers try the conservation programs, they will see that the programs are economically feasible and environmentally sustainable,” says Peterson.
Montana farmer Clifford Merriman traveled to DC for the first time to communicate to his legislators how programs such as CSP and EQIP help young producers minimize risk to experiment with non-traditional practices, while ensuring the financial security of their operations.
Discussing his experience with the Conservation Stewardship Program, Merriman explains, “For farmers it is hard to step outside what is the comfort zone, what is believed to be the way to do things. When a farmer is experimenting with new ideas or practices, he puts so much on the line: his family’s welfare, his family’s legacy and his growing potential. CSP helps us venture out to try some new farming techniques without the risk. For example, we wanted to grow flax with our Kamut wheat which goes against traditional knowledge, but some new science came out and said that the two grew really well together. We tried it, and that the soil benefits were tremendous. With the security of the CSP contract, we were able to pilot growing the two together, and that helped with the soil quality and our bottom line. CSP allows us to have risk management while we try some new stuff to move into the future. The sustainability of the farm is really important to me, because I want to pass on the farm to my kids.”
We are grateful to the farmers and ranchers who shared their stories, bringing the everyday experiences of American agriculture to Washington, DC.