With Farm Bill negotiations in full swing, there is growing momentum in US public policy around incentivizing regenerative agriculture. Forum’s Sustainability Strategist, Michelle Stearn, highlights how collective action can pave the way for policy wins that prioritize both resilient ecosystems and thriving communities. She shares the impetus behind the Growing our Future initiative’s policy work and how organizations – including food and agriculture companies – can collectively drive deep, systemic transformation.

The current momentum around transitioning to regenerative systems in agriculture presents an unprecedented opportunity for organizations to collaborate. With collective action, we can begin rewriting the rules that underpin the current agriculture system by fusing two seemingly disparate policy areas: the protection of ecosystems and climate, and the impact of agriculture policy on the people and communities who grow our food. 

Currently, US federal policy incentivizes many farming methods that contribute to ecosystem decline. At the same time, policies and programs that are set up to support farmers exclude (both past and present) many who make up the backbone of our agriculture system, especially small-scale Black, Indigenous, Latine, immigrant, undocumented, and low-income farmers and farmworkers. This has resulted in stark inequities: large-scale family farms make up less than 3% of all U.S. farms, but reap 43% of the commercial value of all agricultural products, while 94% of all farm operations are owned by white farmers

There is growing recognition that agriculture holds the key to climate policy solutions. Milestones from the past year include the first-ever regenerative agriculture hearings in Congress and the promise of nearly $20 billion in conservation funding, through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), that supports regenerative practices. However, despite efforts to increase access, only 2.1% of producers who identify as socially disadvantaged are enrolled in the USDA’s longest-standing cost-share program to de-risk the adoption of regenerative practices. 

Since 2020, the Growing our Future initiative has developed a vision for US agriculture policy, with many organizations voicing their eagerness to support policies - through both advocacy and action - that promote and sustain regenerative systems. In 2022, agribusiness and industry groups spent a record $165 million to lobby Congress. However, Growing our Future participants shared that corporate government affairs teams need guidance on which systems-level, transformative policies support their shared goals while also including critical actors, such as historically underserved farmers and ranchers. So we asked: 

What if companies and coalitions leveraged their collective resources to advance policy that prioritizes ecosystem health, community well-being, resilience, and climate solutions? 

Through our work, we uncovered three areas of momentum where collective action in policy could have big ripple effects:

1. Cultivating inclusive incentives: Expanding crop insurance to support regenerative approaches

The current US farm safety net represents both a barrier and an opportunity for promoting regenerative systems. Though some farmers rely on the services it provides, the farm safety net also disincentivizes regenerative approaches to agriculture, such as diversified cropping systems and crop rotation, in part by disproportionately subsidizing premiums for large farms practicing monoculture. In 2018, “large” and “very large” farms received 43% of all crop insurance indemnities in 2018, with 94% of insurance payouts servicing only six commodities. What’s more, socially disadvantaged farmers are still less likely than their counterparts to have crop insurance to protect them from increased risk. 

Innovative crop insurance programs are emerging, but collective support is essential to aid their expansion and reach producers who have historically been left out. Programs like the Micro Farm Program (expanding crop insurance to small family farms which represent 88% of all US farms) and the Whole Farm Revenue Program (incentivizing diversified crop rotations essential for establishing cover crops and building soil health) have the potential to lay the foundation for a more inclusive farm safety net. Examples of legislation and marker bills – smaller pieces of legislation that form the language for larger bills – currently on the table that could support these programs include:

→ The Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience Program (COVER Act), with broad-based support from coalitions and Congressmembers, includes a provision for premium subsidies for cover crop application.

→  The Food and Farm Act would authorize increased access for commodity and subsidy programming to farmers who plant more than one crop, potentially enabling adoption of diversified cropping systems. 

2. Enabling farm level adoption of regenerative practices: Technical assistance and finance for producers’ transition to regenerative approaches

In addition to farm safety net reform, farmers need access to high quality technical assistance in order to begin the adoption (or continue their stewardship) of regenerative approaches. Promisingly, the USDA has stated intentions to increase equity and access in the distribution of the unprecedented $19.5 billion investment from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation programs over the next four years. The investment will bolster the chronically oversubscribed conservation programs that support regenerative practice adoption. Through advocacy, organizations have a critical role to play in protecting this funding and ensuring equitable distribution. Legislation and marker bills on the table that could advance these efforts include:

The Conservation and Innovative Climate Partnership Act lays the groundwork for Congress to authorize funds directly to land grant universities for the implementation of Conservation programs and technical assistance.

Senator Luján, in partnership with the National Young Farmers Coalition and American Farmland Trust, are working on proposed Farm Bill language that would enable farmer-to-farmer networks and others to enter into NRCS cooperative agreements to augment farmer-to-farmer education and support conservation practice adoption. This small legislative change would “augment existing farmer-led education networks and build capacity for new ones—particularly for historically marginalized communities—as a key strategy to increase adoption of conservation practices.”

3. Supporting producer-centric climate solutions: Investing in guidelines for verified ecosystem services markets 

The impacts of climate change have made it even more vital for producers to adopt regenerative practices that can help keep carbon in the soil. In the past two years, the USDA has supported 141 organizations to develop Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities (CSC). Over $3 billion has been invested so far, with an emphasis on inclusion for historically underserved applicants. Many of these grants have been allocated to support budding ecosystem services markets, which offer payments to farmers who adopt new practices and sell credits to companies to incentivize reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across their supply chains. 

Though these markets could play an important role in financing the transition to regenerative systems, their design often does not reflect the needs of the diverse array of producers across the US. Using policy as a vehicle, we must ensure that these markets have appropriate oversight to guarantee viability, as well as a clear mandate to engage producers in equitable ways that enable them to thrive long term. Legislation and marker bills on the table that could advance appropriate oversight include:

→ The Agriculture Resilience Act sets forth additions that can promote much-needed research on science-based initiatives for agriculture to support climate solutions and farmer livelihoods.


Through the efforts of broad-based coalitions and advocacy groups, many of the policies explored here are laying the groundwork for profound changes to the way we farm. Organizations and businesses play a crucial role in voicing support for this legislation and together we can ensure that a transition to regenerative agriculture systems includes everyone. 

Learn more about legislation that would expand crop insurance, make technical assistance accessible and widespread, and provide guidance for the emergence of ecosystem services markets in our toolkit: Areas of Momentum for the Farm Bill and Beyond. To join Forum’s policy work through Growing our Future, contact Michelle Stearn.

Further resources 

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