The Trump Administration’s 2020 budget proposal would cut over $2 billion from federal food and farming programs. It’s a recipe for exacerbating the rural economic crisis and widespread pollution, not a healthy and resilient food system.
Farming is undeniably hard work. More than half of U.S. farming households actually lose money farming and rely on off-farm income to support themselves. In farming communities, stories of income inequality, farm foreclosures, food insecurity, and even suicide abound – and the situation is even more stark for farmers of color, who have been disproportionately driven out of farm ownership in the last century.
Farming systems that emphasize health and environmental stewardship, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program, can offer a reprieve. Unlike many stagnant parts of the food system, the organic sector has grown dramatically in recent years, and demand continues to outpace supply. Price premiums for organic crops can bring farm incomes into the black and reflect the true costs of sustainable food production, while offering the public a wide range of health and environmental benefits.
That’s why the Trump Administration’s proposed cuts to sustainable farm research and conservation programs stand out as particularly concerning for the health of our food system and the economic viability of our farms.
The Public Benefits from Organic Research
Research on sustainable farming helps farmers identify practices that increase agricultural productivity, produce health benefits, and promote environmental stewardship. And while organic farmers urgently need specific research in areas like organic-compliant pest control and soil building practices, the outcomes of that research are valuable to a wide range of farming operations. In the absence of this public funding, most agriculture research is driven by a few huge industry players and focuses on expensive, and often toxic, inputs that can create health risks for farming communities, consumers, and the environment. But instead of expanding resources available to farmers by increasing funding for organic and sustainable research, the administration proposed to slash them.
For example, SARE is the only USDA program focused entirely on farmer-driven sustainable agriculture research. SARE projects generate cutting-edge research on cover crops, renewable energy, and local and regional food systems, among other issues. The program funds projects that address the “3 Pillars of Sustainability”:
- Profit over the long term;
- Stewardship of our nation’s land, air, and water; and
- Quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and their communities.
The proposed budget cuts close to half of SARE’s funding, when instead, SARE’s budget should be increased to meet demand for publicly funded sustainable farming research.
Farmers Deserve Fair Pay for Conservation Benefits
Organic and sustainable farmers frequently incorporate practices that protect water quality, curb soil erosion, and provide wildlife habitat. Implementing these practices can require significant financial investments, but they can also offer substantial public benefits. Several public programs help farmers overcome barriers to implementing on-farm conservation practices, by offering incentive payments and technical assistance. These programs have strong track records of success in promoting both financial and environmental sustainability.
Last year, the bipartisan Farm Bill ultimately rejected a House proposal to cut one of these key programs – the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – but that didn’t stop the Trump administration from reviving the proposal to cut CSP in the budget plan. This short-sighted approach not only ignores the directives in the bipartisan Farm Bill, it also harms public health and the environment: the end of CSP would mean less protection of soil health, less protection of water quality, and less funding to help farmers do the right thing. Instead of reviving the CSP fight that was already lost in Congress, the budget should carry out the Legislature’s mandate to fund CSP.
It’s Time to Budget for an Organic Future
It can take a decade to bring a single new seed variety to market – and we need a lot more than seeds to keep our farms afloat. If we want an agricultural system that nourishes everyone with healthy food, protects our environment, and offers safe and profitable career paths, we need to step up our investments in organic and sustainable agriculture now. Farmers can’t do it alone.
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