Volunteer with the Food Systems team
NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series on the 2023 Farm Bill. Part 1 offers insight into the federal level and Part 2 examines support in the Minnesota legislature.
In this year’s midterm elections, a few key issues drove voters to the polls: reproductive rights, inflation, and public safety.
But this year’s elections will also impact another issue: sustainable agriculture and the 2023 Farm Bill.
At the state level, Minnesota has an opportunity to center sustainable and regenerative practices in agriculture policy over the next two years. Through executive order in 2019, Governor Walz created the Climate Change Subcabinet, which released its draft Climate Framework this past year. Goal 2 focuses on “climate-smart natural and working lands” with priority actions including carbon sequestration, expansion of climate-resilient agriculture through incentive programs, investments in perennials and cover crops, and promotion of local food systems. Regenerative agriculture’s inclusion in the Governor’s vision for the state appears to be a given. The Climate Change Subcabinet’s framework notes that “Incentivizing regenerative agricultur[e] helps farmers meet consumer demands and protects water quality.”
Lt. Gov. Flanagan has also shown her support, attending the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance’s (RAA) first convergence in March. At the event, Flanagan expressed her support for regenerative systems as “powerful climate change solution[s]” while calling for the state to scale up regenerative agriculture.
State legislators hold the power to center sustainable and regenerative agriculture in upcoming policy.
DFL leadership recently announced the Agriculture Committee Chairs in both the House and Senate, with Rep. Samantha Vang (Brooklyn Center) moving up from the House committee’s Vice Chair position. In the Senate, second-term senator and Land Stewardship Action Fund-endorsed Aric Putnam (St. Cloud) will chair the committee. Putnam previously cited the need to “incentivize agriculture that sequesters carbon from the atmosphere.”
Along with Rep. Vang, Kristi Pursell (Northfield) will vice-chair the committee, adding her background as a strong supporter of regenerative agriculture and former leader within the Land Stewardship Project to agriculture leadership. The committee will be rounded out by suburban legislators Rick Hansen (South St. Paul) and Ethan Cha (Woodbury), with backgrounds in agriculture and farming, respectively.
Outside of the Agriculture Committee, further support exists for climate-resilient agriculture from Rep. Kaohly Vang Her (St. Paul), having previously introduced the Headwaters Community Food & Water Bill, seeking “to provide an alternative to the industrial food economy by establishing and maintaining a local and regenerative food web.”
In 2020, the Minnesota Deptartment of Agriculture created an Emerging Farmers’ Working Group, and this past year gained a legislative victory along with Vang to create an Emerging Farmers Office with a focused coordinator role. Vang expressed support for emerging farmers through her introduction of HF2298, providing state grants to local farm groups including Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) and the Latino Economic Development Center, along with the creation of an emerging farmer office under the Department of Agriculture.
From 2020 to 2021, statewide farmland prices increased nearly 10%, making access to affordable land for emerging farmers a top priority to legislators on both sides of the aisle. It’s also expected that 50% of American farmland will change ownership in the next two decades, meaning it’s vital to support emerging farmers through streamlined tax credit program applications and pre-approval mechanisms. Under the new Emerging Farmers Office, the Farmlink program supports land transition and intergenerational dialogue by connecting new farmers with those who are retired, passing on both land and knowledge. This will work hand-in-hand with the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit program, which received over $250,000 from the state last year for better administration.
Future assistance to emerging farmers could include increased support for the Minnesota Down Payment Assistance Grant Program, which already received $2 million in funding through the omnibus bill. Startup assistance will also include state-funded technical training and access to equipment, as advocacy groups cite the need for multilingual resources and increased cultural awareness toward a variety of farming methods.
We can expect bipartisan efforts to fund the development of cover crops and perennials, along with the creation of markets for farmers to profit. The benefits of cover crops are twofold: their deep root systems help to sequester carbon and return other nutrients to the soil while also providing another source of income for producers. The Forever Green Initiative (FGI), founded by Don Wyse at the University of Minnesota in 2012, has so far developed 16 cover crops that flourish statewide including Kernza (intermediate wheatgrass) and camelina. With now-permanent state funding following efforts by Rep. Ginny Klevorn (Plymouth/Medicine Lake), Forever Green can explore future capacity for these crops into food oils, animal feed, and potentially bioplastics.
It remains to be seen how aggressive the new state legislature’s push toward regenerative and sustainable agriculture will be, but local policy groups including the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) and the Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) have their own wish list of items they support. LSP’s policy platform sets its sights on five main areas: consolidation, conservation and climate, crop insurance reform, emerging farmers, and regional food systems. Many of these issues receive bipartisan support through increased local livestock processing and streamlining application processes for loan and tax credit programs.
Further support from LSP goes to decreasing funding for farmers and producers actively harming the soil and their community’s health through their practices – thereby incentivizing farmers to adjust their methods accordingly.
MFU similarly supports incentivizing farmers carrying out regenerative practices such as carbon sequestration, advocating for fair return on investment for farms choosing to finance these projects. They further support funding and expanding the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), aimed at “implementing conservation practices that protect our water.”
Addressing the agriculture industry’s impact on climate change is crucial to making all of our systems more sustainable. At the federal level, the 2023 Farm Bill provides the opportunity to shift to more regenerative practices over the next five years through direct policy action. Federal funding is likely to take a more cautious approach to funding in the next Farm Bill. Despite this, finding bipartisan support for conservation programs and support of emerging farmers will help move us toward more sustainable methods.
Here in Minnesota, the outlook is markedly more optimistic. The groundwork for the coming legislative session has been previously laid by support for regenerative agriculture from reelected legislators and policy advocacy from groups like LSP and the MFU. In 2023, legislators have the ability to make Minnesota a leader in regenerative agriculture nationwide.
To make a difference on regenerative and sustainable agriculture in Minnesota, join MN350’s Food Systems team.
Jackson Sweeney graduated from Villanova University in 2021 and is originally from the Twin Cities. He is interested in working at the intersection of public policy, agriculture, and grassroots communication throughout Minnesota. Jackson has been an intern with MN350’s Regenerative Agriculture team since September.