Top 20 Wins (and Fights!) for Sustainable Agriculture in 2020
December 22, 2020
The end of the year is just around the corner – and what a year it has been! In these times of pain, uncertainty, reflection, and action, two things are certain: (1) our country and our world as we know it will never quite be the same, and (2) the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) will not stop advocating for our nation’s small-scale, diversified, beginning, underserved, conservation-minded and local/regional farmers – even through a global pandemic.
As we get ready to ring in a new year (and welcome in a new Congress as well as a new Administration with it), it is time to reflect on what policy wins and fights the sustainable agriculture movement has borne witness to throughout this trying year.
Without further ado, here is NSAC’s list of Top 20 Wins (and Fights!) of 2020:
Direct COVID-19 Relief Secured for Small-Scale, Sustainable Farmers – NSAC mobilized to improve the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) when funding proved inadequate for farmers who market locally, regionally, or direct-to-consumer and for farmers of color hit hard by the pandemic. CFAP 2.0 was better, available to more farmers and covered more products. The explicit inclusion of local food in the CARES Act, championed by NSAC and our members’ grassroots mobilization, made these improvements possible. Additionally, Congress is on the verge of passing another historic round of COVID-19 assistance which includes additional funds for local food, beginning and underserved farmers.
Direct Outreach Efforts for COVID-19 Aid Access – With relief funding secured, NSAC partnered with several member organizations to provide direct support to farmers on the ground who could benefit from CFAP aid. These outreach efforts centered farmers that may otherwise not receive support in the application process, including beginning farmers and farmers of color, due to lack of experience accessing USDA programing or the legacy of discrimination at the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Farmer Fly-In, Pandemic-Style – NSACheld our first virtual fly-in this spring, where farmers held conference calls with Senators and Representatives from their home states to discuss the benefits of federal sustainable agriculture programs and how Congress could support farmers and local food systems during COVID-19. We are hopeful that this represents a shift in how constituents may continue to engage with their representatives in the future, as taking time off the farm to fly to our nation’s capital is not accessible for most farmers.
Appropriations Process Yield Wins – Following months of waiting, the final Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations bill includes a number of big wins for the sustainable agriculture community! Thanks in large part to NSAC’s advocacy, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program will receive $40 million – the highest funding level ever for the program. The bill also provides increased funding for farmers markets and the Office of Urban Agriculture, among other investments.
Conservation, Climate Change, and Organics
Farmers Commit to Be Part of the Climate Solution – NSAC delivered its Farmer Climate Letter to Rep. Castor (D-FL) and Rep. Brownley (D-CA) of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The letter was signed by over 2,100 farmers and ranchers across the country expressing their commitment to being part of the climate solution and calling on Congress to provide the tools and resources they need to be active partners in our climate mitigation efforts.
Groundbreaking Agriculture Resilience Act Introduced – The Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA, H.R. 5861) is the most comprehensive piece of legislation on climate change and agriculture, setting an aggressive but achievable plan for agriculture to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. NSAC helped to craft this bill and outlined many of the provisions in ARA in an in-depth blog series. Additionally, the vast majority of the bill’s provisions were included in the Congressional Action Plan on Solving the Climate Crisis published by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis this summer.
Stewards of Conservation Abound – NSAC published the Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the country’s largest private lands conservation program. The guide provides farmers and ranchers looking to enroll or renew contracts in CSP with helpful, comprehensive, and accurate information about the program. We promoted CSP signup dates in numerous states, too, and saw growing interest in the program as a result.
Organics Get a Boost – Results of the NASS 2019 Organic Production Survey, which NSAC helped secure funding for, indicate a 31 percent increase in organic sales since 2016 – showing that demand for organics continues to defy expectations as consumers recognize its many benefits. Federal programs must expand to help farmers keep up with this growing demand, to which end we also celebrated NRCS defining organic assistance as part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Final Rule.
Farming Opportunities and Racial Equity
Racial 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 agenda to address inequities in agriculture and support the rights of Black, Brown and Indigenous farmers in the pursuit of climate crisis mitigation, regional food supply chain infrastructure, antitrust enforcement, and public research investments.
Beginning Farmer Coordinators Deployed Across Country – USDA announced a new team of State Beginning Farmer Coordinators to ensure there is a dedicated advocate for beginning farmers in every part of the country, as mandated in the 2018 Farm Bill and long championed by NSAC. This will help first generation farmers, young farmers, urban producers, immigrant and refugee farmers, and farmers of color to tap USDA resources to build successful and sustainable farming operations.
Access to Crop Insurance Expanded for Local Food – For the 2021 crop insurance year, Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) will now be available for producers who sell to direct markets. The update is intended to reduce the paperwork for direct market producers, and will prove a helpful tool that increases access to WFRP for the small-scale and diversified farmers the program was designed to serve.
Inaugural Urban Agriculture and Community Compost Funding Opportunities – USDA finally stood up the Office of Urban Agriculture this year, with programs to support urban agriculture and innovative production activities as well as compost and food waste reduction projects. The office was created in the 2018 Farm Bill with support from NSAC, but it was not fully implemented because no money was allocated by Congress. NSAC, however, along with many urban agriculture advocates, secured funding in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 agriculture appropriations bills – allowing its creation to move forward!
Farmers and Ranchers Suffer from Undue Preference Final Rule – USDA published a final rule on the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 to create criteria for determining whether meat packers give undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to one producer over another, as mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill. The published criteria provide a blanket defense for anticompetitive practices by corporate integrators in the poultry, hog, and beef markets at the expense of small-scale or contracted producers, in direct contrast to the Farmer Fair Practice Rules celebrated by NSAC at the end of the Obama Administration (promptly withdrawn by the Trump Administration). NSAC calls on the Biden-Harris Administration to revoke this final rule, which fails to protect growers and respect the intent of Congress.
Reversal on Payment Limits Sold Out Farmers – The Trump Administration issued a landmark final rule on payment limitations and eligibility this summer to limit tax-funded subsidy recipients to family members who are actively engaged in farming (not just on paper) as mandated by Congress – then abruptly reversed course. NSAC urges the incoming Biden-Harris Administration to revisit this rule, which will perpetuate farm consolidation at the expense of young and beginning farmers and farmers of color.
CSP Final Rule Misses the Point, Fails Farmers and the Environment – The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) final rule, published in October, directly contradicts decisions made by Congress by putting conservation-focused small farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage. NSAC blasted the Trump Administration’s blatant disregard for statute and urged the incoming Biden-Harris Administration to revisit this rule and bring it in-line with the intent of Congress.
This year has been difficult, but we have pulled through it together. It is time to channel the hard lessons that we learned this year and apply them to our shared fights ahead… but first, just for a moment, celebrate! We could not have achieved all of the important wins listed above without the continuous support and hard work of our members, allies, champions, and supporters – without you. Thank you and happy new year!