Washington, D.C. — American Farmland Trust today released two new white papers that further illustrate its priorities to increase adoption of conservation practices in the next Farm Bill. These priorities include the creation of a federal match to help states and Tribes build up their soil health programs, and increased support for farmer-to-farmer education to accelerate adoption of conservation practices.
“AFT’s is working this Farm Bill to keep land in farming, keep farmers on the land, and to help farmers adopt sound farming practices,” said Tim Fink, AFT’s Policy Director. “Increasing adoption of soil health practices is a win-win for farmers and for the communities they serve. These practices can increase profitability and benefit water quality while also helping build resilience to and combat climate change. The white papers released today outline innovative and cost-effective ways for Congress to support farmers and ranchers build soil health in their fields.”
Creating a Federal Match for State and Tribal Soil Health Programs in the Next Farm Bill urges Congress to build up locally-led programs that supplement and fill gaps in NRCS conservation support. For example, many state programs fund purchases of soil health equipment—a key barrier to adoption that farmers report facing and which NRCS does not fund. Since the last Farm Bill, states have been leading the way, creating new policies and programs that help producers improve their soil health. These locally-led programs are tailored to meet the needs of producers, are popular and often oversubscribed, and they invest in innovations that can inform NRCS program implementation and future Farm Bills.
“AFT sees that state programs are an essential complement to NRCS’s work, and the Farm Bill should help to build existing programs up and jumpstart the creation of programs in states where they do not yet exist,” said Samantha Levy, AFT’s Conservation and Climate Policy Manager. “Creating this match program, which already has broad and bipartisan support, would leverage federal funding, help states and tribes develop new programs, create innovative new models for advancing conservation, and build upon grassroots leadership.”
Improving On and Increasing Access to Conservation Programs in the Next Farm Bill focuses on how programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) can continue their work supporting voluntary, locally-led conservation while ensuring equitable access for farmers. In addition to recommendations to provide sustainable conservation funding, increase technical assistance capacity, streamline program implementation, increase equitable access, and better track outcomes, this paper details an AFT priority in the Farm Bill to augment farmer-to-farmer education in conservation.
Levy continued, “Ask any farmer where they get their information about adopting conservation practices on their farm or ranch and nine times out of ten they will say, ‘another farmer.’ In our focus on financial and technical assistance, we often overlook this critical piece. Farmers are innovators, and they trust other farmers to best answer the questions about what worked and what didn’t. Supporting more of those types of interactions among peers is key to ensuring successful long-term adoption of conservation practices, and improving farm viability and resilience in the face of a changing climate.”
AFT also recommends Congress establish an Office of Small Farms at USDA to support lower-acreage producers, and the white paper includes other recommendations to continue increasing equitable access to USDA conservation programs.
These white papers and recommendations were informed by 16 Farm Bill workshops AFT conducted in 2022 with farmers, service providers, and others across the U.S. These recommendations are part of a broader AFT Farm Bill policy agenda that includes critical policy recommendations to protect farmland and help current and aspiring producers run viable operations and access land. AFT also recently released its Smart Solar Farm Bill agenda to ensure a smart solar buildout that supports rural vitality as the U.S. transitions to renewable energy.