Farmers, agriculturalists and consumers in the US depend on the Farm Bill - a Bill that addresses farm program payments, food policy, conservation initiatives, rural development, and more. While a one-year extension has been added to the 2018 Bill, time is running out to act. Forum’s Growing our Future US team explores whether this is our last chance to unite the private sector with grassroots movements on equitable regenerative agriculture policy.

At Growing our Future US, we believe shifting policy can lay the foundation for an emerging food system that prioritizes community resilience, environmental regeneration and justice for agricultural communities. One seminal piece of legislation is the Farm Bill. How will it tackle the most pressing sustainability and equity challenges in our food system? In September, the 2018 bill expired, but we now have the gift of time: this week, the House and Senate reached an agreement that affords us 11 more months to pass the Bill – and key marker bills associated with it – and ensure that it works for both people and the planet.

Agricultural communities need bold action for the Farm Bill, and our soil does too. We need to advocate like our lives depend on it, because they do. In the US, soils are eroding up to one thousand times faster than they are regenerating. What’s more, 40% of farmland in the US is expected to change ownership in the next few decades, according to a survey conducted by National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC). This shift could have devastating consequences, given the trend in urban development and farm consolidation. But if federal policy enables young farmers to access land, and training promotes regenerative practices, we can turn this risk into an opportunity.

The current policy landscape

Coalitions such as NYFC, Rural Coalition, Regenerate America, and the American Sustainable Business Network have worked tirelessly with policymakers on legislation for the Farm Bill that could transform the land and the communities who care for it. 

Policy tools, like the Soil CARE Act, can help direct the nearly $20 billion USD allocated through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) towards programs that directly empower farmers and technical service providers to utilize context-appropriate practices to enable regenerative approaches. As we mobilize around the new Farm Bill deadline, we must speak up to ensure that the appropriate set-asides can reach all farmers and technical service providers.

The Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act is another key marker bill. In an article for Public News Service, NYFC land policy director Holly Rippon-Butler said the passage of this legislation “would be a historic investment,” not just for the next generation of farmers facing systemic barriers to land access, but also for the stability of the food supply chain and broader economic resilience of rural communities. Black, Indigenous, Latine and other farmers of color are especially committed to regenerating the soil and caring for the water and ecosystems on their farms, and yet, they have historically been left out of Farm Bill programs. It is critical that, in this Farm Bill and in all future legislation, we prioritize social equity alongside soil health.

How can food companies, consumer packaged goods brands, suppliers, and everyone in between, engage where it matters most for this upcoming Farm Bill?

In short: by building coalitions, harnessing our collective power and learning from those who have been advocating on the Hill for decades, and also from broad-based movements for change in other sectors. 

Together with our Growing our Future partners, we created engagement tools to support organizations who represent grassroots farming and ranching communities with corporate and mainstream actors – an “unlikely” grouping that we believe can have transformative results. Based on participant feedback, we set guidelines and goals for our policy advocacy. These represent an important first step in collective advocacy toward our shared vision of a just and regenerative agricultural system. Along the way, we’ve learned that:

  • “We hear you” goes a long way, but it’s just the beginning: The space we’ve created is rare: a circle where farm community representatives are in direct communication with representatives of leading sustainability initiatives at corporations. Sometimes, simply acknowledging feedback and tension (regardless of whether or not there is a solution) is what is needed to move forward to understanding, and eventually to decision-making.

  • Build on, rather than break down: We navigate and appreciate complexity. More often than not, it is the norm. Simultaneously, there can be two or more ways of looking at an issue, and although we may not always agree, our connections ideally help to move closer to consensus. The more we can make space for a plurality of views, the more we can advance toward our goal of prioritizing social equity in regenerative agriculture policy.

  • “I don’t know the answer to that” is OK: if not more valuable than purporting to know everything

Showing vulnerability and sharing when you don’t know the answers can build trust in a community. Saying “I don’t know how this will land — and I’m happy to try!” or even, “I don’t know if I’m able to speak on that” can be powerful, as we uncover the boundaries and limits to our own experiences and points of view, and begin to discover what we need to learn and improve to succeed.

Three ways to take collective action on regenerative agriculture policy

Building trust and relationships across historic silos is just one way that Growing our Future aims to shift the goals of the US food system from extractive to regenerative. The upcoming Farm Bill is a platform where collective action around shared goals could have transformative results. Everyone’s voice is needed; here are three ways you can make yours count:

  1. Join our Catalytic Cohorts: Collectively, organizations across the food system have a lot of lobbying power. We aim to organize around the legislation that grassroots coalitions have been working tirelessly on for decades. Join our “final push” policy cohorts to contribute to the multiplier effect on Congress.

  2. Partner with us to identify and cultivate internal synergies: Through our policy working group, we’ve heard that companies often struggle to address the disconnect between internal departments, such as sustainability and government affairs. We’ll support your efforts as the Farm Bill negotiations continue, by providing training, coaching, and other support for you to take a stand on legislation that will directly impact your supply chains.

  3. Build the case for constituencies in action: Contribute to story-gathering efforts that paint the picture of why each Bill that paves the way for regenerative approaches can change the game for US soils, water, and climate – and most of all, the agricultural communities who care for the land.

For updates and analysis on soil health legislation in real time, we recommend Land Core’s Bill Tracker.