EDITORIAL: Focus ag policy on climate change

The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·2 min read

Mar. 9—Farmers got a known commodity when Iowa's Tom Vilsack was approved as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack held the job for the entirety of the Obama Administration and is steeped in ag policy.

What rural areas remain uncertain of is exactly how President Joe Biden will target ag funding. But during the campaign Biden signaled he would focus his agriculture policy on fighting climate change.

It's the correct course to take.

What won't change in coming years is the farm bill, the current rendition of which runs through 2023. Still, members of both parties are already beginning to discuss the next version.

The farm bill continues to skew too much toward major corporate farms. Between 1995 and 2019, the top 10% of recipients received 78% of the $223.5 billion doled out and the top 1% received 26% of the payments. A majority of farms received no subsidies.

But the 2018 farm bill took some steps to restrict who is eligible for farm commodity payments. Under the new rules, a payment recipient must provide 25% of a farm's total management hours on an annual basis and must provide the management on a "regular, continuous and substantial" basis.

While the farm bill enshrines current farm subsidy programs, Biden can tap a pool of funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation. The program of $30 billion in annual funding was used by the Trump administration to distribute billions of dollars in aid to farmers to offset the trade wars with China and other countries.

Fortunately the market has improved dramatically for commodities, boosting farm income and freeing up money for Biden's green farm policies.

In a recent interview Vilsack said the administration hopes to create incentives for practices such as organic production, cover cropping and crop rotation, all aimed at storing more carbon in the soil to keep it from escaping into the atmosphere. Biden's strategy also aims at enrolling more farmland in long-term conservation programs.

There is also support for creating markets for farmers to trade carbon credits.

Vilsack said during his confirmation hearing that the administration's strategy of tying more farm aid to green priorities could be incorporated into the next farm bill.

Focusing more on incentivizing efforts to slow climate change in farm practices is a welcome shift in farm policy that should be embraced by members of Congress as they begin looking at the next farm bill.