American Farmland Trust Shares Transition Recommendations to Protect U.S. Food Security and Fight Climate ChangeMon, 09 Nov 2020 09:06:03 CST
American Farmland Trust -- the organization that for forty years has been working to save the land that sustains us by protecting agricultural land from development, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land -- has outlined five policy recommendations for the United States Department of Agriculture that could be implemented by the Biden administration to ensure our nation’s agricultural land remains available to produce food and help fight climate change. Broadly, these policies address farmland protection and viability, farmland access for the next generation of farmers and ranchers and regenerative agriculture to harness agriculture’s ability to fight climate change and become more resilient to its impacts.
There are clear reasons to be concerned about the nation’s ability to produce food for a growing population, requiring immediate and sustained action.
In just the 15-year period from 2001-2016, 11 million acres of agricultural land (equivalent to all U.S. farmland devoted to fruit, nut, and vegetable production in 2017) were paved over or converted to uses that threaten the future of agriculture according to AFT’s “Farms Under Threat: The State of the States Report”.
At the same time, the U.S. is undergoing a seismic shift in farmland ownership that will have a profound impact on agriculture for generations to come. More than four times as many farmers and ranchers are age 65 and older as are under age 35, suggesting that 370 million acres of agricultural land will change hands in the next two decades. Yet finding and affording land is a major barrier for young and beginning farmers and ranchers.
All while atmospheric CO2 hit an all-time high in 2019. For America’s farmers and ranchers, climate change is already here. Extreme weather events such as record high temperatures and drought are threatening crop productivity, stressing water supplies, and increasing wildfire risks. At the same time, more frequent and intense storms wash away soil, prevent planting, and destroy entire crops. A changed climate also means new plant and animal diseases, increased pest pressure, and massive disruptions to traditional cropping systems.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting market disruptions and significant losses of income within the agricultural sector, many producers have had to take on additional debt and are finding it challenging to survive. Even with significant federal coronavirus relief, farm bankruptcies still rose 8% between June 2019 and July 2020.
“Today we shared a set of key recommendations outlining suggested programmatic shifts for the USDA that should align well with the Biden Administration’s priorities. Not requiring congressional action, most of these changes could be implemented relatively quickly to support the viability of agriculture, our nation’s food security, and our fight against climate change,” said Tim Fink, AFT policy director, “These recommendations are just a starting point. We recognize that there are numerous other challenges facing agriculture and we look forward to working with the Biden Administration and the new Congress to achieve lasting solutions.”
AFT’s recommendations are outlined in summary in the “Transition Recommendations for USDA” fact sheet, and in detail in five separate white papers:
1) Develop a National Cover Crop Initiative
2) Establish the Commission on Farm Transitions
3) Maximize the potential of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s Agricultural Land Easements
4) Strengthen the Farmland Protection Policy Act
5) Create a Debt for Working Lands Initiative
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