Over the weekend, it was announced that Joe Biden received the 270 electoral votes needed to become the next president of the United States. The agriculture industry has taken this opportunity to set out their recommendations in order to have a successful four years. For example, American Farmland Trust has outlined five policy recommendations for the U.S. 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.
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 to 2016, 11 million acres of agricultural land 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 percent between June 2019 and July 2020.
AFT’s recommendations are outlined in summary in the “Transition Recommendations for USDA” fact sheet, and in detail in five separate white papers: