Democratic Platform Pledges Support for Beginning Farmers, Local Food Systems
Given the fairly detailed agricultural “factsheet” put out by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in August of 2015, it would have been reasonable to expect an even more comprehensive agricultural policy position would be laid out in the Democratic National Platform. When the final platform was released last week, however, it was only a modest improvement over the sparse draft released earlier this month by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
In a 55-page document, the section dedicated to agriculture is afforded less than half a page of text. A few additional mentions also pop up in the platform’s poverty, tribal nations, and public lands and waters sections. While we appreciate that party platforms have the unenviable task of trying to address the entire host of issues faced by our next president, we remain disappointed at the lack of attention paid to our nation’s farm and food system, and the family farmers who are its lifeblood. Where relevant, we have supplemented our analysis of the Democratic platform’s positions on agricultural issues with highlights from candidate Clinton’s 2015 factsheet, Hillary Clinton’s Plan for a Vibrant Rural America.
Investing in Agriculture
The platform’s section on agriculture begins with a strong statement of support for beginning farmers and growth of local and regional food systems. Though the platform itself fails to get into specifics on how it will support beginning farmers or promote the development of local/regional food systems, Clinton’s factsheet provides more detailed insights:
“Support the next generation of farmers by doubling funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program [link added] to provide education, mentoring, and technical assistance to aspiring farmers and ranchers. Clinton will also fight to enact her New College Compact to tackle student debt. A National Young Farmers Coalition [an NSAC member organization] survey found that 30 percent of respondents said that student loans delayed or prevented them from farming.
Build a strong local and regional food system by doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets, SNAP recipients’ access to fresh food, and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers. Clinton’s focus on this issue stems from the “Farm-to-Fork” initiative she promoted in New York as Senator.”
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) is the only federal program exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Though it has only been around for seven years, BFRDP has proven to be highly successful and popular with farmers across the country. Unfortunately, interest in the program has historically outpaced federal funding – the 2015 funding year saw the highest number of applications to date (221), but due to increasing interest and declining funding, it also had the lowest success (acceptance) rate (15%) since the program’s inaugural year. NSAC developed BFRDP and secured its introduction in the 2002 Farm Bill; we have been and remain tireless advocates for increasing funding to this important program. We are pleased that candidate Clinton has recognized this important program in her agricultural factsheet.
We are also pleased that the Democratic platform expresses support for local and regional food systems, and that Clinton’s factsheet specifically highlights the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), an NSAC developed and championed program. As a competitive grants program that funds direct-to-consumer marketing strategies as well as local and regional food business enterprises, we believe support for FMLFPP will be an integral part of building out local and regional food systems.
Both the platform and factsheet call for reforms to and increased support for lending and credit programs that serve farmers and rural communities – though the factsheet provides significantly more detail. The platform calls for increasing equity capital for rural businesses (generally, not just agricultural businesses) through the expansion of the New Markets Tax Credit. Clinton’s factsheet does not mention the New Markets Tax Credit, but does call for simplifying regulations on community banks, which are the primary financial institutions for over 70 percent of rural community members. The factsheet also seeks to increase the number of Rural Business Investment Companies, which “make equity investments in small rural businesses—driving growth and creating jobs in rural areas”.
Unfortunately, neither the platform nor Clinton’s factsheet include any direct mention of improving the Farm Credit System to better serve beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and local food systems, or increasing support for the Local and Regional Food Enterprise Loan Guarantee Program, which helps food and farm businesses that bring locally and regionally produced food into rural communities, schools, and markets.
Both the platform and the factsheet include generalized statements of support for the “farm safety net”. However, neither includes any real specificity on the subject, nor hint of plans to reform the current crop insurance system to support family farms and the environment. The Whole Farm Revenue Program is also conspicuously absent a mention in both documents, despite its success in providing diversified, organic, and transitioning-to-organic farmers with risk management tools that address their needs infinitely better than the traditional crop insurance options.
Natural Resources and Conservation
The Democratic platform pledges to promote “environmentally sustainable agricultural practices”, “collaborative stewardship of our natural resources”, and to “provide assistance to producers who conserve and improve natural resources on their farms”.
Clinton’s factsheet provides further clues about how the Democrats might achieve these goals, calling for full funding of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and support for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). We applaud the candidate for her support of these important conservation incentive programs, and hope to see an expansion of this support to include the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
CSP is the nation’s largest working lands conservation program, supporting farmers and ranchers as they introduce and expand conservation on their lands. Enrollment in CSP was reduced in the 2014 Farm from 12.8 million acres to 10 millions acres (funding is allocated by the amount necessary to enroll a specified number of acres), eliminating access to an important conservation tools for thousands of family farmers. Together CSP, EQIP, and RCPP form the heart of America’s agricultural conservation efforts on working farmland. We look forward to hearing more about how candidate Clinton might work to expand conservation options to family farmers nationwide through these programs.
We are pleased that the platform includes a significant sub-section on commitments to indigenous tribal nations, including commitments to restoring tribal lands and protecting the natural resources on those lands:
“We will restore tribal lands by continuing to streamline the land-into-trust process and recognize the right of all tribes to protect their lands, air, and waters. We will continue to work on a government-to-government basis to address chronic underfunding, and provide meaningful resources and financial investments that will empower American Indian tribes through increased economic development and infrastructure improvements on tribal lands.”
The platform also expresses support for “collaborative stewardship” of America’s public lands and waterways, investment in renewable energy and biofuels, and opposes “efforts to undermine the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act”.
While neither the platform nor Clinton’s factsheet reference the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in relation to its historic attachment to the farm bill, both express support for the program. The platform refers to SNAP as “our nation’s most important anti-hunger program”, while Clinton’s factsheet underscores the important connection between SNAP and our nation’s network of farmers markets.
Given the recent attacks on SNAP (particularly in the Republican platform), we hope that the importance of keeping this crucial program as part of the farm bill will be made a priority both at the DNC and by the candidate.
According to the platform’s sub-section, “Protecting Our Public Lands and Waters”:
“Agricultural lands account for nearly half of the total land area in America and our agricultural practices have a significant impact on our water, land, oceans, and the climate. Therefore, we believe that in order to be effective in keeping our air and water clean and combating climate change, we must enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship.”
Though it does not address the role of agriculture specifically, the platform commits to convening a summit, within the first 100 days of the new administration, to gather leading scientists, policy experts, and activists to chart a course for addressing the climate crisis. Farmers and agricultural scientists and policy experts will hopefully have a significant role in such a gathering, if it happens, since moving toward a more sustainable and regenerative agriculture could make an outsized contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon through robust improvement in soil health.
Categories: General Interest