Policy Update: AFT Submits Comment on Supply Chain Resilience
On Monday, June 21, AFT submitted a public comment to USDA regarding “Supply Chains for the Production of Agricultural Commodities and Food Products.” The request for comment was in response to President Biden’s February Executive Order on “America’s Supply Chains,” which directs the Secretary of Agriculture to submit an assessment within one year. In addition to informing the creation of this report, USDA also requested public comment to help direct recent stimulus funding to “increase durability and resilience within the U.S. food supply.”
The comment argues that the pandemic revealed a fragile food system optimized for efficiency rather than resiliency, and that it is imperative that we increase local and regional food systems in order to compliment the existing national food system. The comment also states that the pandemic was not the only challenge facing the industry, and that we must also prepare for upcoming challenges such as the transfer of agricultural land to the next generation, and the impacts of climate change. Many of the recommendations center around helping the new generation of farmers to access land, building viable farm and food businesses through providing business support and financing, and creating robust local and regional food systems by ensuring the existence of appropriate food system infrastructure as well as supporting institutional purchasing abilities.
The comment also integrates numerous aspects of the Farms for the Future Initiative, which has been proposed to USDA in partnership with the Black Family Land Trust and Agricultural Viability Alliance. Farms for the Future combines a suite of recommendations to teach aspiring producers about the industry, help new farmers and ranchers access affordable land, provide business support to existing producers, and help USDA to focus on supporting underserved communities and smaller operations.
Below is an outline of the sections and specific recommendations proposed in the comment:
Help Producers Access Affordable Land through Agricultural Conservation Easements and Transfer Incentives
- Increase funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE) to protect and increase the affordability of agricultural land.
- Create a New Buyer Program within ACEP-ALE to help young, beginning, and socially disadvantaged producers purchase land using “Buy-Protect-Sell.”
- Create a national Protected Farmland Finder platform to assist farmers in finding affordable protected land for purchase.
- Create tax and bonus payment incentives for owners to transfer land to the new generation.
Improve the Viability and Resilience of Small and Midsize Farm and Food Businesses
- USDA should set aside $300 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, to dramatically scale up one-on-one business technical assistance for small and midsize farm and food businesses.
- Offer grants to small and midsize farm and food businesses to implement new strategies identified through Business Technical Assistance.
- Establish an Office of Small Farms to coordinate, represent the interests of, and expand outreach to lower-acreage and/or lower-income farms.
Increase the Infrastructure and Market Opportunities for Local and Regional Supply Chains
- Increase annual funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program’s Local Food Promotion Program to help develop and grow capacity for local and regional food system infrastructure.
- Pass legislation to help public institutions invest in infrastructure and build the staff capacity necessary to increase farm-to-institution purchasing and meal preparation.
- Change federal procurement laws to allow schools to purchase local food even when it is not the least-cost option, and create a Federal Local Purchasing Incentive.