Farmers take fight for Farm Bill to the Capitol
Washington, D.C. – Twenty farmers and farm advocates representing 13 agricultural states flew into Washington D.C. as part of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) 2018 Farm Bill fly-in event. Producers and advocates alike all came to the Capitol with the same goal – to stand in front of their elected officials and advocate for a 2018 Farm Bill that supports the needs of America’s family farmers.
“The 2018 Farm Bill should be on every farmer’s mind right now,” said Greg Fogel, NSAC Policy Director. “This single legislative package has the power to shape the face of American agriculture not only for the next five years, but potentially for generations to come.
We know that faith in the policy process is low right now, and that’s why we’re especially honored that these 20 farmers and advocates took the time to be here in person this week, ensuring that their voices and the voices of their communities are heard.”
Priority issues for the NSAC fly-in are taken from the Coalition’s recently released Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill, they include: Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers; Comprehensive Conservation Reform; Local and Regional Food Economies; Seed Breeding and Research; and Crop Insurance Modernization.
Farmers and advocates experienced with federal programs and policies focused in these areas came to D.C. to meet with their legislators and discuss how the 2018 Farm Bill can make needed investments and policy improvements for a more sustainable food and farm future.
South Dakota native Aaron Johnson was among those who took time off their farm to discuss their farm bill priorities. Johnson grew up on his family’s farm and had always hoped to return to agriculture, but after graduating college the high price of farmland forced him to put his dreams on hold.
“I wanted to go back into farming after college,” said Johnson, “but I didn’t see a way to do it with the amount of land I could afford.”
Even after securing farmland for his operation, Johnson Farms, Johnson found the learning curve between growing up on a farm and running one to be steep. He credits U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) with helping him attain the skills and resources to succeed.
“I grew up on a farm, but once I had my own operation I realized there was a lot I needed to learn,” said Johnson, who is also on the leadership committee of Dakota Rural Action. “My wife and I took a course called “Farm Beginnings,” which was supported by BFRDP, and we learned a lot. We got help with everything from financial planning to learning how to incorporate family life into farm life – and best of all we got to meet and form connections with other beginning farmers.”
Johnson’s family has been using USDA conservation programs for over 20 years. On his own operation, Johnson uses CSP to support his conservation activities, including contour farming, crop rotation, soil testing, and sustainable grazing.
Adam Ingrao is also a beginning farmer who has benefitted from BFRDP, as well as from the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers program (“Section 2501”). Ingrao leads the Michigan Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS) Vets in Ag Network program, serves on the board of MIFFS, and runs Bee Wise Farms – an urban farm in Lansing. Thanks to Section 2501, Ingrao has been able to help more military veterans like himself transition into successful careers in agriculture.
“I started the Vets in Ag Network with MIFFS in 2014 with support from the Section 2501 program” said Ingrao. “Starting a career in agriculture can be overwhelming, especially for veterans who might not have any prior farming experience. Veterans trust other veterans though, so that makes them comfortable working with us, they know we’re looking out for them. At MIFFS we run workshops for veterans, provide peer-to-peer mentoring services, and we serve as advocates for them. For veterans, farming is more than just a career, it's also about service and community; it’s a conduit to heal and to connect.”
Will Reed, who serves as Chairman of the board for the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, has been farming in Mississippi with his wife Amanda for the last seven years. Reed’s operation, Native Son Farm, is located on the outskirts of Tupelo, MS and is closely connected to the community through the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farm to school sourcing relationships.
“I didn’t grow up farming, or even mowing the yard,” said Reed. “I got interested in farming when I went on an exchange program to a school in Northern California, where I saw the transformative power of local agriculture. In Mississippi, we have a paradox – we’ve got some of the most fertile soil and yet an epidemic of diet-related illnesses. Farmers who sell locally, as well as the federal programs that support farm to fork relationships, that’s the key to resolving these kinds of disconnects.”
Reed has also utilized programs from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), to enhance conservation practices like cover crop planting and implementing organic pest management and crop rotations.
“I wanted to be part of this fly-in in part because the USDA conservation programs that we’ve used have really been a huge help to us,” said Reed. “I think the fact that NRCS works directly with farmers makes those programs particularly effective.”
Farmers and advocates from Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin were also in attendance for the NSAC fall fly-in.
“Farmers are at the front lines when it comes to farm bill advocacy,” said Fogel, “but the farm bill isn’t just important to farmers. The farm bill will impact every single one of us in a profound way. If you eat, this is something you should be getting involved in.”