Ten major companies in the food and beverage, apparel, and agriculture sectors have joined forces to urge Congress to modernize and expand the tools available to farmers in accessing federal conservation programs and resources. In a joint letter sent to the House and Senate agriculture committees, these companies highlight the importance of improved technical assistance for farmers seeking to participate in voluntary U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs. The companies emphasize that such programs can lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil, and increased biodiversity.
The letter, signed by Bonterra Organic Estates, Brown Family Farms, Eileen Fisher, IndigoAg, Mars Inc., New Belgium Brewing, PepsiCo, Sierra Nevada, Solectrac, and Stonyfield Organic, represents a diverse group of companies from the food and beverage, apparel, and agriculture industries. By advocating for enhanced access to regenerative agriculture resources, these companies demonstrate their strong commitment to promoting sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices.
The letter was also signed by the Evangelical Environmental Network and Kiss the Ground, two nonprofit organizations actively engaging farmers to advance sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices. The coordination of this effort was led by Ceres, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with companies and investors to promote sustainability practices and policies.
The signatories of the letter underline the existing barriers that prevent many farmers from accessing USDA-NRCS programs. The application process is overly complex, and technical assistance resources are inadequate. To rectify this situation, the companies suggest that technical assistance should provide farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners with the necessary knowledge, tools, and resources to successfully participate in these programs and access financial assistance.
The joint letter outlines various opportunities to improve technical assistance for farmers. One such opportunity is the establishment of new public-private partnerships that can provide additional support and expertise. Simplifying the application process is another suggested improvement. These enhancements should specifically target farmers of color, small farms, and beginners who have historically faced challenges in accessing resources. By broadening access, these improvements can benefit rural economies by creating well-paying jobs.
The 2023 Farm Bill: A Critical Opportunity
The signatories emphasize that the 2023 Farm Bill presents a critical opportunity to invest in American farmers and adopt forward-looking agricultural practices. These practices can protect the food system, stimulate economic growth, and help companies meet sustainability goals across their supply chains. Recognizing the expertise and insights of industry leaders, the companies urge Congress to prioritize the modernization and expansion of technical assistance for all farmers and ranchers during the Farm Bill negotiations.
Ceres, which launched its Climate-Smart Agriculture and Healthy Soils Working Group in 2021, has been at the forefront of advocating for agricultural policies that position farmers as climate leaders. The group, comprising leading food and clothing companies, has consistently engaged with members of Congress to make the economic case for a climate-smart Farm Bill. Their efforts include organizing a letter outlining priorities for the bill, such as modernized and expanded technical assistance.
Ceres has also collaborated with companies to maximize the conservation resources provided by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Furthermore, they have endorsed bipartisan legislation, led by Senator Mike Braun of Indiana, to expand technical assistance certification to private-sector and non-federal organizations. By increasing the number of technical assistance providers, more farmers can benefit from their expertise.
The collective call from these ten leading companies, along with the support of nonprofit organizations, demonstrates the growing consensus on the importance of supporting farmers in adopting sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices. By improving access to federal conservation programs and enhancing technical assistance, the 2023 Farm Bill has the potential to unlock significant environmental and economic benefits. Congress should take note of these industry leaders’ insights and prioritize the modernization and expansion of technical assistance for farmers and ranchers, thereby ensuring a just and sustainable future for agriculture and rural communities.