Tag Archives: agriculture

Farm Policy Roundup—September 26, 2014

American Farmland Trust Supports Climate Smart Agriculture Initiative

corn-in-dry-fieldAmerican Farmland Trust Supports Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture
New partnerships to address climate change were announced this week at the United Nations Climate Summit, including the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. Held in New York, the U.N. Climate Summit was attended by leaders from around the globe as well as finance, business, civil society and local leaders from public and private sectors.  The summit sets the stage for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature.

One outcome of the summit is the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. The Alliance is a new effort to promote greater international engagement on ways agriculture can help mitigate the impact of climate change. The Alliance brings together governments, businesses, farmers’ organizations, civil society groups, research bodies and intergovernmental entities to address food security in the face of climate change.

American Farmland Trust is supporting this effort through the North American Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture which was also announced at the U.N. Climate Summit. The three-year North American initiative will give farmers, ranchers and foresters the opportunity to collaborate with industry, academia, government and NGO partners in developing ways to improve production resiliency and mitigate current and future risks of changing climatic conditions.
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Planning for Landscape Integrity in the 21st Century

The National Agricultural Landscapes Forum brought together thought-leaders from around the country to foster a deeper understanding and dialogue about major trends and issues shaping the future of agriculture, conservation and rural regions. Held April 7 and 8 in the shadow of a federal government shutdown, the forum put forward policy and program opportunities to increase government effectiveness and engender cross-jurisdictional collaborations that improve agricultural and conservation outcomes in a sober budgetary environment.

The following is the first in a series of stories that will reflect on the major themes from the forum and what they mean for 21st century agriculture.


A failure to plan is a plan to fail

(L to R) Blue Ribbon Panel Members A.G. Kawamura, Patrick O'Toole and Varel Bailey

The need to think strategically about the future of agriculture was a sentiment shared among the conservation leadership gathered at the recent National Agricultural Landscapes Forum. Looking at the landscape from his vantage as former California Secretary of Agriculture, A.G.Kawamura described California AgVision 2030—a stakeholder-driven effort to shape the state’s food and farming system—as an example of how to bring diverse interests to the table to move agricultural policy into the 21st century. Calling for an agricultural renaissance, Kawamura shared his perspective on converging watersheds, foodsheds and energysheds that will create dynamic communities and end the 20th century exodus from rural America. “The human landscape means there’s an ag landscape as a part of the human environment,” he explained. “How do we plan the environment so it’s sustainable in all its different aspects?”

One answer came from Richard Barringer, Research Professor in Planning, Development and Environment at the University of Southern Maine. Barringer pointed to the New England governors’ Report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Land Conservation. This ground-breaking initiative addresses five regional landscape themes, including keeping “Farmlands in Farming” and “Forests as Forests.” While New England, according to Barringer, is a “land of rugged individualists, we’re living in new time,” and this effort embodies several key principles: private ownership creates challenges and opportunity; collaboration is absolutely necessary; and conservation solely for natural benefits is no longer enough–today we must incorporate the social and economic benefits. Working together must be a part of the plan. Inspired by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak’s address at an America’s Great Outdoors workshop in March, Barringer concluded, “Our conservation legacy will be defined by new partnerships and collaboration.”

A changing demographic landscape

A necessity for more effective collaboration points to a need to understand who will be farming in the 21st century. In a poignant keynote address, Sec. Vilsak’s Chief of Staff, Krysta Harden, asked, “Are we talking to all the right people to ask them what they need or are we only talking to people we are comfortable with and know?” She pressed further: “Are we talking to people who feel like they don’t usually have a place at the table?”

According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, the average age of farmers in the country is 57.

Walter Hill, Dean of the College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences at Tuskegee University, reminded us that historically we have not succeeded in engaging the whole community. The 2007 Census of Agriculture shows growing ethnic, racial and gender diversity and a rapidly aging farm population. Farm operators 75 years and older increased by 20 percent while those under age 25 dropped 30 percent. Farmers aged 65 or older own 21 percent of America’s farmland, suggesting a huge transfer of land is imminent.

Hill challenged the audience, comprised largely of gray-haired men, “to get inclusion from every group that you can.” He advised, “Building trust is a monster; it takes time.” By 2042, the U.S. Census Bureau also predicts that current minority populations will become the majority, and it is time to start now if we want to be ready.

Beyond the tipping point?

As former Secretary of Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets Roger Allbee pointed out, it has been 30 years since the National Agricultural Lands Study (NALS), the only time the federal government has comprehensively assessed the challenges and opportunities facing the nation’s agricultural land base. Since then, he said, “We’ve lost as much farmland as Illinois and New Jersey put together.” Proportionally more of our best land has been lost, especially prime farmland and cropland. As Craig Cox, senior vice president of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Environmental Working Group stated bluntly, “The 21st century reality is we’ll have less land and water with which to do more.”

Since NALS, we have developed 41 million acres of rural land—or one out of three acres ever developed in this country. Cox was spot on when he said we’ve been “losing rather than gaining ground.”

(L to R) Ross Racine, Jon Scholl, Otto Doering III, Varel Bailey, Julia Freedgood, A.G. Kawamura, John Stierna

Assuming development continues its historical pattern—consuming our best agricultural soils fastest— Jeff Herrick, research soil scientist with USDA Agricultural Research Service, believes demand for farmland will drive expansion onto marginal lands or rangelands. He called for resilient landscapes that have the capacity to recover from extreme weather events: “Sustainable production at landscape scale.” However, with a rapid increase in non-operator landowners, especially in the Corn Belt, Iowa State Assistant Professor J. Gordon Arbuckle, Jr., predicts that future landowners will be further removed from the land, both geographically and culturally, less likely to participate in working lands programs and will spend less on conservation.

A challenge worth taking

If we continue these patterns, where will we be in 2042 when the world population is predicted to be nine billion people? The National Agricultural Landscapes Forum presented a valuable baseline but now we need to answer the big questions: How much land will we need to meet 21st century demands not just for food, fiber and fuel but also for clean air and water and biodiversity? What do we need to do now to secure it? Who will be the farmers and ranchers of tomorrow and what resources will they have to conserve and protect our precious agricultural landscape?

What rang clear from the voices emerging from the forum was the need to think strategically and plan for the future of agriculture, conservation and our precious land and water resources. As Craig Cox advised, “We will have to run much faster and smarter to stay in the same place.” It has never been more urgent to conduct a forward-looking assessment of the agricultural landscape and create the vision and policy direction needed to ensure—borrowing from Aldo Leopold—its integrity, stability and embodiment of community.



About the Author: Julia Freedgood is Managing Director for Farmland and Communities at American Farmland Trust.

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Innovation Through Collaboration at the National Agricultural Landscapes Forum

The nation has its eyes on agriculture, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently celebrating National Agriculture Week and countless state and local organizations recognizing the importance of our working lands and the farmers and ranchers who manage them. However, since 1982, the U.S. developed 41 million rural acres—that’s one out of three acres ever developed in this country! Looking forward, with a third of farm operators now older than age 65, a huge transfer of land and resources is imminent. Given an estimated world population of nine billion people in 2050, even greater competition for land and water is looming on the horizon.

With this expected population growth, how much land and water do we need to meet present and future demands for food, energy and environmental services? Have we already converted/diverted too much? How do we ensure conservation outcomes while preserving land and water rights?

Recognizing tight budgets and multiple resource demands, 21st century solutions will require greater cooperation among agricultural producers, all levels of government and private-sector partners to focus on conservation outcomes instead of jurisdictional authorities. Toward this end, American Farmland Trust has partnered with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Foundation NFP to host a National Agricultural Landscape Forum in Washington, D.C., on April 7–8, 2011.

Guided by a Blue Ribbon Panel of leaders in agriculture and conservation, authorities from around the country will debate new policy approaches that are needed to sustain agriculture as a vital component of the nation’s landscape and to protect the health of the precious natural resources upon which our nation’s security depends.

Regional roundtables are currently being held by Farm Foundation NFP to bring diverse “on-the-ground” perspectives to inform forum discussions. Outcomes from the roundtables and national forum are part of the public input process required by the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA) and will be used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs aimed at improving environmental quality and rural development.

Creating opportunities to work together in a strategic, coordinated fashion is essential. How do we redesign the institutional structures we have now to reduce silos and promote partnerships among agencies, levels of government and producers? Finding ways to increase collaboration and share scarce resources is a sentiment shared by our national leaders. As Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee, recently explained in a National Ag Day address, the future of federal agricultural programs is dependent on everyone working together. Sen. Roberts is forming plans with Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to hold farm bill hearings around the country to illuminate key issues in agriculture. With the pending opportunity to share opinions that could inform the outcome of the 2012 Farm Bill, the National Agricultural Landscapes Forum will provide an early incubator for ideas and solutions from a broad spectrum of agricultural and conservation interests.

Engaging with a strong lineup of speakers and presenters, forum-goers will be involved in discussions that will shape future policy and determine the course of agriculture over the coming years. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan will carry on the energy of National Ag Week and kick off the forum as keynote speaker. A G Kawamura, former California Secretary of Agriculture and partner with us in the ground-breaking Ag Vision 2030 initiative, will present on “Foodsheds, Energy Sheds and Watersheds.” NRCS Chief Dave White will provide a venue to share a wide range of concerns as Blue Ribbon Panelists recap what they heard at the Farm Foundation NFP Regional Roundtables.

Please join us, our partners and the Blue Ribbon Panel in a vigorous discussion about how to ensure the health and prosperity of the nation’s agricultural landscape.

Register now for the opportunity to take part in this critically important dialogue.


About the Author: Julia Freedgood is Managing Director for Farmland and Communities at American Farmland Trust.

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The New Political Landscape – Farm Policy Implications

The 2010 midterm elections brought significant changes to the makeup of Congress.

In the House, the Republican Party gained 63 seats to take a 242 to 193 majority, while in the Senate, the GOP gained five seats, narrowing the Democrat majority from 53 to 47.

The November results also brought a change of leadership at the House Agriculture Committee, where Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) has taken over from outgoing Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota).

United States CapitalShortly after the election, in a webinar presented by the Washington, D.C. based law firm McLeod, Watkinson & Miller (“Election Results and the Agriculture Committees”) former Staff Director of the House Agriculture Committee Bill O’Conner pointed out that, “Chairman Peterson had wanted the farm bill in 2011, and incoming Chairman Lucas had never been very excited about that, and has now publicly stated that he thinks it’s better to do the farm bill in 2012. That will give the committee some chance to adapt to the new situation and to do the background hearings necessary to begin to familiarize themselves with the very large and complex jurisdictions in a farm bill.”

A CQ- Roll Call Summary of new House Members indicated that a few freshmen bring an agricultural perspective to Capitol Hill.  Among them is Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas), a self described “deficit hawk” who “spent most of his working life in agriculture-related news services.”

Vicky Hartzler, a new GOP Member from Missouri “owns an agricultural equipment business with her husband,” and has made balancing the budget one of her key priorities; and, a former Ohio Farm Bureau President, Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) has indicated that “cutting the federal deficit and lowering the national debt” is one of his top concerns.

Representatives Crawford, Hartlzer and Gibbs, will all serve on the House Agriculture Committee.

Balancing fiscal restraint while maintaining a sound national agricultural and food policy will be a key issue as Congress gets to work.

The Hill newspaper reported last week, “Farm subsidies and the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC) will come under scrutiny from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the new chairman of the [Appropriations] Agriculture subcommittee.”

Rep. Kingston stated that, “If there is an agricultural conservation program that is popular in red states, we have to look at it. If there is an inner-city school lunch program popular in blue states, we have to look at that, too.”

With respect to the Senate makeup and agriculture, the most significant change is the appointment of a new Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  After Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) was defeated on November 2, and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) opted to retain his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan became the new leader of the Agriculture Committee.

In her first speech as the new Chairman, Sen. Stabenow indicated last week that, “We are going to have a series of hearings on how the farm bill is working and what should change…[W]e will need to find creative solutions to help our growers manage risk. The safety net might look a little different than it does now.”


Keith GoodAbout the author: Keith Good, an attorney from central Illinois, compiles a daily summary of news relating to U.S. farm policy each weekday at www.FarmPolicy.com.

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Colorado Meeting Addresses Climate Change’s Impact on Agricultural Production

Farmers and ranchers across the United States and throughout the world are already experiencing the repercussions of changing weather and climate.  The impacts are particularly felt in the American west where declining water tables, increases in temperature, and a rise of pests and diseases moving into new areas have been linked to the changing climate.

Our ability to adapt through transformations in technology and environmental conditions will be a key factor in the future of agricultural production and economics.  Reacting to these changes will require a broad-based effort from stakeholders across the environmental and agricultural communities.

On July 19, 2010, in Denver, Colorado, we are inviting members of the agricultural community to meet with representatives from the USDA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality in an effort to bring these stakeholders together.  The objective of the one-day session is to help in developing Federal recommendations for adapting to climate change impacts.  In addition to hearing about planning efforts and proposed adaptation strategies, farmers and ranchers will have the opportunity to contribute their feedback on how agricultural producers can adjust their operations to meet an unpredictable future.

The public meeting, Helping Agriculture Adapt to a Changing Climate, is organized by the USDA and co-hosted by American Farmland Trust and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  A draft agenda and additional information, as well as registration material, are all available online.

Please join us for the meeting and help us to spread the word to other interested parties, including farm groups, trade groups, commodity groups, agritech and agribusiness representatives, insurance representatives, environmental/conservation groups, and local/national land managers/producers.  We look forward to seeing you soon in Denver!

About the Author: Jimmy Daukas is Managing Director, Agriculture and Environment Campaign

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