Summary of Recommendations
Read a brief summary of the set of five recommendations AFT assembled for the Biden Administration.
AFT created the following set of transition recommendations for the Biden Administration. These recommendations, which were chosen since they can be implemented without congressional action, are not intended to represent the full breadth of policies supported by AFT since we recognize that there are many other challenges facing agriculture. However, we believe these recommendations are important to build a better future for agriculture.
Develop a USDA Cover Crop Initiative
AFT recommends that the Biden Administration create a USDA-wide initiative to serve as a catalyst for broader cover crop adoption as a key step toward harnessing agriculture to help solve the climate crisis. Cover crops are planted after the primary crop is harvested in order to “cover” the soil during the fallow season, protecting it from erosion and leaching. They are a proven, low-cost natural climate solution, capable of sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) into soils.
AFT estimates that roughly tripling cover crop adoption from the current 15.4 million acres to 44.4 million acres could reduce CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions by 14.5 million metric tons annually. In addition, cover crops have numerous other benefits, including improving water quality and the bottom line for farmers, all while making soil more resilient to the extreme weather presented by climate change.
Establish a Commission on Farm Transitions
The U.S. is undergoing a seismic shift in farmland ownership that will impact American agriculture for generations to come. According to AFT research, seniors aged 65 and older own more than 40% of the agricultural land in the United States. This suggests an impending transfer of more than 370 million acres of farmland in the next two decades. Public policy will play a pivotal role in determining how and to whom this land will transfer, and whether this vital national resource is accessible to a new generation of producers, or simply paved over for development.
Recognizing this threat, Congress authorized a “Commission on Farm Transitions—Needs for 2050” in the 2018 Farm Bill. The 10-member Commission is tasked with studying issues impacting the transition of agricultural operations to the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Intended for completion within one year of enactment, the Commission has not yet been constituted. The Commission represents an excellent opportunity for the Biden Administration to identify and develop support for strategies that will help older farmers and landowners retire and help a new, diverse generation of producers build strong and successful farm enterprises.
Maximize the Economic and Environmental Benefits of ACEP-ALE
The land vital to our country’s food security, rural economy, and climate goals continues to be lost at an alarming rate. In just the 15-year period from 2001-2016, 11 million acres of agricultural land (equivalent to all US farmland devoted to fruit, nut, and vegetable production in 2017) were paved over or converted to uses that threaten the future of agriculture.
The Agricultural Conservation Easements Program-Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE), the one federal program dedicated to protecting agricultural land, will require significant additional resources to meet current need and demand. The Biden Administration could use ACEP-ALE not just to protect additional agricultural land, but also to increase conservation, enable reinvestment in farm operations, and create opportunity for a new generation.
Strengthening the Farmland Protection Policy Act
As policymakers look to farmers and ranchers to help combat the climate crisis and foster more resilient local food systems, the land that these producers steward and rely on is under threat. The federal government has been a significant contributor in the conversion of farmland. In just the 15-year period from 2001-2016, 1.3 million acres were proposed for conversion by projects that received federal funding.
While vitally necessary, new federal investments in infrastructure can and must be made in a way that minimizes the impact on the working farmland and ranchland needed to meet national climate and food security goals. The Biden Administration has an opportunity to show leadership in this arena using the Farmland Protection Policy Act.
Create a Debt for Working Lands Initiative
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused market disruptions and significant losses of income within the agricultural sector. Because of this, many producers have had to take on additional debt. As the Biden Administration considers ways to alleviate the pandemic’s economic impact, AFT encourages the expansion of the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Contract concept to provide additional conservation-focused debt relief and restructuring tools. An expansion of this program – in the form of a “Debt for Working Lands” Initiative – could allow producers to reduce and restructure debt in exchange for a permanent agricultural conservation easement or a shorter-term non-development covenant.