Organic Broadcaster

Green New Deal presents opportunity for farmers to help steer ag policy

By Katherine Paul

“No figure is more endearing and enduring in agriculture than the lonely plowman out there on the horizon who raises himself by his own bootstraps to financial success. Only problem is, there is no occupation more dependent on the cooperation of society and nature to achieve success than farming.”

~ Gene Logdson, “The Myth of the Self-Made Yeoman”

Judging by the state of the U.S. farming industry, neither society nor nature is behaving kindly right now toward farmers. Torrential rains have ravaged millions of acres of Midwest farmland, hitting farmers at a time when farm bankruptcies are already at a 10-year high.

As for society, U.S. farmers operate in an industry dominated by a shrinking number of increasingly powerful agribusiness corporations that call the shots on everything from how much farmers have to pay for seeds, to what kinds of herbicides they have to use, to the contract terms they must agree to in order to conduct business.

How did big corporations come to have so much power over the lives of independent farmers? They did so by using their profits to employ high-paid lobbyists who make sure that ag policy laws are tipped in favor of agribusiness corporations, not family farmers.

Until recently, farmers hoping for better policy support have had to beg for scraps once every five years when Congress revisits the Farm Bill. With the Green New Deal, farmers have a unique opportunity to transform the U.S. industrial agriculture system by lobbying for policies that support farming practices that build soil health, produce healthier food, revitalize rural economies, foster local and regional food security—at the same time positioning farmers as climate-solution leaders while also improving their own chances for economic success.

To turn that opportunity into reality, farmers need to get involved. One way to do that is to join Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal, a national bipartisan coalition that aims to ensure that agriculture policy is front and center in the climate conversation.

“The Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition offers food producers a chance to tell their stories, to speak their truths, to guide and influence legislation, and to work—collectively—toward a future where safe, fresh, and healthy food will be available for all,” said Sherri Dugger, one of the coalition’s co-chairs.

“Climate change impacts us all—whether we’re food producers or food consumers—and we must find ways to work together, to each take a seat at the table, and to find a solution to the many climate-related challenges we face,” said Dugger, who is also co-owner of Dugger Family Farms in Morristown, Indiana, executive director of Women in Food & Ag Network and a member of the Indiana Farmers Union. “The Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition offers our nation’s food producers the opportunity to lead this charge.”

Francis Thicke, who runs Radiance Dairy, a 236-acre grass-fed based dairy farm in Iowa, seconds that sentiment. “The Green New Deal is a great vision for the future, but we as organic farmers need to become involved in championing the role that agriculture can play, so we can get regenerative organic farming incorporated into Green New Deal policies,” Thicke said. “Since we started farming in the upper Midwest, we have lost about half of the organic carbon content of our soils. We can reverse that through regenerative farming practices that mimic the ecological systems that created our soils.”

Green New Deal Explained
Let’s first talk about what the Green New Deal isn’t. It’s not a law. It’s not a bill. It’s not a policy.

So when critics say, “I don’t see how it helps farmers—the language pertaining to food and ag is too vague,” they miss the point. And when someone who identifies as a Republican or Libertarian or Independent automatically rejects the resolution simply because it was introduced in the House and Senate by Democrats, they miss the potential of the Green New Deal to jump-start transformational change in the food and farming sector.

The Green New Deal has already succeeded in forcing politicians, including 2020 presidential candidates, to address several intertwining and critical issues, including climate change, the economic deterioration of rural economies and the growing number of farms being forced out of business. To reject it because of partisan politics or “farting cows” is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. (See www.organicconsumers.org/blog/farting-cows-factory-farms-and-climate-crisis-we-need-green-new-deal.)

What the Green New Deal is is a non-binding resolution, introduced in both the House and Senate on Feb. 7, 2019, by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D- N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), respectively. Non-binding resolutions are voted on, but not signed into law by the president. Many non-binding resolutions, such as in the one passed in 2008 that apologized for America’s history of slavery, are merely symbolic.

In general, a non-binding resolution passed by Congress is viewed as a commitment by Congress to a general goal or set of goals. So far, the Green New Deal has been endorsed by 104 members of Congress, including most candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The twin resolutions introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey have not yet been voted on by the House or Senate. In March, the U.S. Senate did vote on and reject an identical but separate resolution, introduced by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). That vote, seen largely as a public relations stunt aimed at quelling the media attention and the building momentum behind the Green New Deal, had no real impact on the resolutions previously introduced, which are still subject to a vote in the future.

The Green New Deal resolution outlines an ambitious set of goals, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2030 and ending poverty and income inequality in the U.S. It’s described by its authors as a “10-year national mobilization” plan. Others describe it as “an umbrella term for a set of policies and programs that will rapidly decarbonize our economy, get all of us off of fossil fuels and work to stop the climate crisis in the next 10 to 12 years.” Modeled in part after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms and regulations enacted by then-President Roosevelt between 1933 and 1941 and credited with restoring prosperity in the U.S. following the Great Depression of the 1930s—the Green New Deal has also been called a “massive policy package” (though the policies have yet to be written) and a “framework.”

Farmers & Green New Deal
The Green New Deal specifically calls for “eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country.” It also calls for funding “massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases.” And it calls for access to healthy food, and clean air and water for all Americans.

The Green New Deal also addresses one of the most critical issues facing independent family farms—corporate monopolies—calling for “ensuring a commercial environment where every business person is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies.” As Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), both competing for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president and both strong supporters of the Green New Deal, have recently pointed out, current agriculture policies give an unfair advantage to agribusiness corporations. And the failure to regulate mergers and acquisitions has only exacerbated that problem.

“Today a farmer can work hard, do everything right — even get great weather — and still not make it,” Sen. Warren said recently. “It’s not because farmers today are any less resilient, enterprising, or committed than their parents and grandparents were. It’s because bad decisions in Washington have consistently favored the interests of multinational corporations and big business lobbyists over the interests of family farmers.”

The latest plan for Revitalizing Rural America from Sen. Sanders echoes Warren’s call for leveling the playing field. “With the right support and policies, we can have rural communities that are thriving economically and ecologically,” he said. “The following policies will drive a transition in our agricultural system away from a consolidated, profit-driven industrial model to one that rebuilds and restores rural communities.”

The combination of the popularity of the Green New Deal (a recent poll suggests majorities of both parties support it) along with heightened concern around the plight of America’s farms and rural communities, plus the increasingly dire warnings about climate and its impact on farmers in the Midwest, is responsible for shining the light on how current food and farming policy is failing farmers, consumers and the climate, and on how better agriculture policies can provide solutions to multiple and intensifying crises.

It has also provided a challenge to farmers: Get involved early to make sure new policies provide the right support or leave it to the politicians and lobbyists, who without input and pressure, will likely remain loyal to big corporations, not America’s family farms.

National Coalition
In an article he penned for “The Hill,” Randy Dugger, vice president of the Indiana Farmers Union and co-owner with his wife, Sherri, of Dugger Family Farms, wrote: “In the Farmers Union, we have a saying that we regularly share with the many farmers we represent: ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.’ The Green New Deal brings all of these important points to the table. It calls for support of independent family farms, sustainable farming, and healthy land practices and food systems. As independent family farmers, that’s something we can all sink our teeth into.”

To that end, Regeneration International, in collaboration with the Sunrise Movement, Organic Consumers Association and other organizations, recently launched the Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition to empower farmers and ranchers to take an active role in transforming U.S. food and ag policy.

Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal is a bipartisan national coalition of rural and urban farmers and ranchers, and organizations that represent farmers and ranchers. Coalition members share a commitment and work together to advance food and agriculture policies that support organic, regenerative, agroecological, and biodynamic food production and land-management practices.

The coalition was formed for the purpose of ensuring that farmers and ranchers—not just corporate agribusiness lobbyists—have a voice in future agriculture-related policy reforms that could be part of the Green New Deal. It aims to include and represent the interests of rural and urban farmers and ranchers working across all food production sectors—including vegetable and grain production, meat and dairy and fiber—from all regions of the U.S.

Coalition members will be invited to participate in any or all of these activities:

• Collaborate on and build support for legislation (including fair pricing, supply management and the end of corporate agribusiness’ stranglehold of U.S. farm policy) that supports farmers and ranchers engaged in or transitioning to regenerative practices.
• Participate in farm tours, Congressional hearings and/or Capitol Hill briefings aimed at educating members of Congress about the potential of regenerative agriculture to draw down and sequester carbon, and revitalize rural economies.
• Help educate consumers about the difference between good food and cheap food, and how regenerative farmers and ranchers can play a role in improving the quality of air, water, and soil.
• Identify and build support for a new USDA secretary of agriculture who will represent the interests of the coalition, not multinational agribusiness corporations.

To get involved, farmers, ranchers, and organizations should sign the letter to Congress online at us.netdonor.net/page/9832/petition/1. All letter signers will be consulted on policy questions and USDA secretary nominations, and will be invited to help in education and lobbying efforts.

The Green New Deal’s overarching goal is to solve the climate crisis via a just transition to a new economy, a transition that includes moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and away from manufacturing and agriculture practices that spew climate-warming emissions and degrade soil, air, and water quality to those that reduce emissions, heal the environment and provide fair wages to workers, not just massive profits to corporations. These goals present farmers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved with an unprecedented opportunity to rewrite farm policy in ways that will drastically improve their chances of economic success.

“The Green New Deal and the regenerative food, farming, land use, economic, social and energy policies that it calls for are the key elements in solving our life-or-death Climate Emergency, public health crisis, environmental crisis, economic crisis and the overall crisis of Democracy,” said Ronnie Cummins, co-founder of Regeneration International and Organic Consumers Association. “Building up the Farmers and Ranchers network for a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary if we are to gain mass public support and political power and implement a Green New Deal, not just for urban America, but for rural America as well.”

Farmers and ranchers have nothing to lose—and everything to gain—by pulling up their chairs and claiming their rightful place at the table where policies to meet the Green New Deal goals will be written.

Katherine Paul is the U.S. national director of the Organic Consumers Association.

From the July | August 2019 Issue

 

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