(Washington, D.C. — July 31, 2023)–Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) have introduced the bipartisan Farmer-to-Farmer Education Act. This bill, written in close collaboration with American Farmlant Trust (AFT) and the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), aims to facilitate farmer-to-farmer conservation education by increasing support for farmer-led education networks and to build capacity for new ones—particularly for historically marginalized communities.
Conservation practices benefit both individual farmers through reduced input costs and increased resilience to extreme weather, as well as society, through improved water and air quality, carbon sequestration, and other ecosystem services. AFT case studies reveal an average return of $3 for every $1 invested into soil health practices. Yet these crucial conservation practices remain underutilized by farmers. As of the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, cover crops—a key conservation practice—were only planted on 6% of cropland acres.
Farmers face numerous barriers to adopting conservation practices, including cost, risk, lack of access to the right equipment, and insecure land tenure. Limited support or a lack of technical assistance is another major barrier to practice adoption. In a 2022 Young Farmers survey of over 10,000 young farmers across the country, 15% of respondents cited acquiring necessary “farming skills” as their top challenge.
Traditional technical and financial assistance at NRCS can help overcome some of these barriers, but farmer-to-farmer education provides the critical missing piece that enables farmers to overcome adoption barriers by having someone with firsthand experience share both the benefits and challenges of practice adoption. Learning from other farmers can help answer key questions about perceived risks to yield, labor costs, and product quality that can prevent farmers from trying a new practice. A recent AFT survey revealed that over 50% of producers surveyed sought conservation education from another farmer, versus 20% from NRCS. Many farmers are interested in providing or receiving support from other producers, but do not know where to start. The Farmer-to-Farmer Education Act of 2023 would address this gap by building capacity for existing networks, and supporting the creation of new ones.
“Increasing farmer-to-farmer education is one of AFT’s key priorities in the upcoming farm bill,” said Tim Fink, AFT Policy Director. “Access to sound and trusted information from other farmers is critical to the long-term, successful adoption of conservation practices that help farmers build resilience and keep their operations viable. We applaud Senators Luján and Moran for introducing a bipartisan bill that would build capacity for farmer-to-farmer learning to facilitate long-term conservation practice adoption by farmers and ranchers, including young and Black and Indigenous farmers and other farmers of color. We urge Congress to support inclusion of this legislation in the 2023 Farm Bill.”
“Many farming communities already hold considerable knowledge of how to adapt to the droughts, floods, and other climate events farmers are experiencing across the U.S.,” said Erin Foster West, Policy Coordination and Management Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The Farmer to Farmer Education Act will invest in knowledge sharing within those communities so that young farmers can learn from friends and neighbors whom they trust. This investment will fill a gap in conservation technical assistance delivery to ensure information farmers receive is in their own language and relevant to their cultural farming and ranching practices.”
“Dating back hundreds of years, farming has a long, storied history in New Mexico. Our communities are filled with farmers who have the knowledge and experience to address the unique challenges of unexpected weather, drought, and flooding,” said Senator Luján, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Unfortunately, existing federal resources are suffering from staffing shortages and additional resources often provide unspecific information. The Farmer to Farmer Education Act is a bipartisan solution that will help educate farmers by strengthening coordination between farmer-to-farmer networks, and the USDA and NRCS. Improving this connection will help provide specialized and timely information for farmers, helping protect their crops and livestock.”
“Farmers and ranchers across the country face many conservation challenges, including staffing shortages at NRCS, which limits their access to conservation technical assistance,” said Senator Moran. “This legislation would allow farmer-to-farmer groups to develop cooperative agreements with USDA to share conservation concepts and new practices.”
“As a community leader, I work closely with farmers and aspiring farmers by providing farm training and technical assistance, helping people apply for and implement Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs. I am not paid to do this work and instead, I take it on because there are gaps in the delivery of NRCS programs,” said Joseluis M. Ortiz y Muniz, a farmer in New Mexico. “I have seen firsthand the benefits that NRCS conservation programs can have for farmers; however, there are many barriers to accessing these programs, especially for disadvantaged communities. I work with a lot of traditional land-based communities, and one of the biggest barriers they face is not knowing that these programs are for them or how to access these resources.”
The bipartisan Farmer-to-Farmer Education Act of 2023 will facilitate peer-to-peer learning by enabling NRCS to enter into cooperative agreements with non-profits, institutions of higher learning, states, conservation districts, Tribes, and others. These agreement holders would be responsible for referring farmers to existing farmer-to-farmer networks, promoting peer to peer learning events like soil health field days, identifying and filling gaps in existing opportunities, and connecting mentors with mentees while paying them for their time and expertise.
- Offers an inexpensive way to augment traditional USDA and Extension-funded research programs, to advance knowledge of how to adopt conservation practices long-term, especially for cropping systems and/or geographic contexts that require more tailored approaches.
- Builds social support and community, with accompanying mental health benefits.
- Supports groups that have often struggled to access traditional conservation programs by building on existing community leadership.