Linda Poole

NCAT Regenerative Grazing Specialist
This week in Civil Eats, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson proposes improvements to the Farm Bill:
I grew up on a farm in Iowa during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. Back then, life here was not flourishing, but dying. I pursued a career in fashion and moved to Los Angeles, where I discovered my connection to food. Then, 10 years ago, I returned to Iowa to find that things hadn’t changed much: Our small town was smaller, more farmhouses had been left to decay, and the big farmers had gotten bigger. I returned to the farm and I have stayed because I love Iowa and see it as ground zero in the battle for the heart of the food system. Now, I’m regenerating land, building healthy ecosystems, improving the water cycle, and storing carbon in the soil—all while the system is actively working against farms like mine.
We are literally polluting ourselves out of a healthy place to live while polluting waterways downstream and killing the seafood that thousands of people rely on for their livelihoods in the Gulf of Mexico, all in the name of King Corn. . . . The corn system is rigged to allow large producers to stay in business and grow while the smaller producers (1,000 acres or less) have to fight for every penny to stay viable.
We need a 2023 Farm Bill that financially rewards farmers who want to grow more diverse crops, plant and preserve trees and forests, graze perennial pastures with ruminants and poultry, and implement the hundreds of other conservation practices proven to keep soil in place, and our water and air clean. And support to businesses that build the infrastructure to support diversification. Doing so will make us all more resilient and won’t stop us from being able to “feed the world,” despite common misconceptions.

Simultaneously, we should disincentivize planting conventional corn in back-to-back seasons and tilling whole farm fields multiple times a year. We need to restructure commodity farm programs to be fair to all farmers and inclusive of all crops. Currently, if our corn crops fail, subsidized crop insurance will cover our losses and, in some years, we may even make more money that way than if we had farmed the land. But if we grow anything aside from corn and soybeans, it’s not protected, and we carry the loss on every acre.

The next farm bill should also include an expansion on the existing incentives for small to mid-scale farms and businesses that produce food for local communities. We also need policies to expand and further support organic agriculture, including technical assistance, agronomists, and local infrastructure to make it easier to transition to organic, and cost share for certification. Incentives and programs that support new and beginning farmers will also be crucial to securing our food system. We need more farmers, not fewer. Current landowners should be incentivized to gradually sell their land to beginning food farmers rather than to the highest bidder.
Read the full story here.
While I agree with Wendy's concerns, after working for the USDA for over 25 years, I have seen how once the government starts paying incentives for what ever reason, it too often gets co-opted by other non agricultural groups. This too often results in over control and overreach by the programs to the detriment of agricultural producers. So, I would caution to be careful what you wish for.
I believe a better approach is through promoting and educating the general farming community of the advantages of regenerative agriculture through forums and workshops such as provided here.

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