Editor’s note: Steve Groff is a farmer, a regenerative agriculture consultant, and the founder of Cover Crop Coaching, which educates farmers and farm advisors about effective cover crop use. The views expressed in this guest article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of AFN.
With a new administration in Washington, the next few years could be interesting for efforts to improve agriculture production while addressing environmental issues at the same time.
President Joe Biden has expressed support for climate-friendly farming practices, but there are questions about what that ultimately will mean. Will helping American farms be a high priority for the new president or will it get lost amid other pressing concerns, including the Covid-19 pandemic? And just how open is a good portion of the agriculture community to the government getting involved in what they do?
Among other proposals, Biden has vowed to pursue policies that would expand and fortify the federal Conservation Stewardship Program. One desired result of this effort would be to make more money available for payments to farmers who reduce their carbon footprint through a variety of methods, including the use of cover crops.
While the big-business side of agriculture has been more willing to use government programs, grassroots farmers involved in regenerative agriculture tend to be leery of government programs and handouts. Most of them, in fact, suggest getting out of government-related programs – particularly the use of crop insurance.
Those in the regenerative agriculture movement come from the perspective that we have ruined the resiliency of our soils and if we ‘regenerate’ them, they can better handle weather extremes brought on by climate change.
But one challenge for the regenerative agriculture movement is getting farmers educated on how to use these practices. That is a huge reason why I wrote my book, The Future Proof Farm. I wanted not only to educate but to inspire farmers to take their first step in that direction.
I firmly believe regenerative agriculture is scalable, as we now have large farms with thousands of acres that are successfully using these practices with little to no inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.
And yes, most of those farms are doing it with no government help.
But on the other side are farmers drooling over the potential to get paid to use cover crops, no-till, and other soil health practices that can sequester carbon. Farmers are primed like never before to try those practices due to rising awareness over the past 20 years or so. In any business, it’s ‘all about the money’ – so if a farmer can get paid to engage in a good practice, it’s a favorable thing in their minds.
How do farmers feel about cover crops? We asked a cover crop coach – read more here
I am biased toward letting the market work, as we know there is demand for food and fiber grown using regenerative agriculture – and we can accomplish what we need to without government help. With regenerative agriculture we can lower our costs of production.
That being said, there are not enough resources to help farmers learn these methods. I believe we have an education hurdle – not a need for another handout. I also believe we need to take a deeper look at how regenerative agriculture actually leads to a more nutritious or nutrient-dense food product, whether it is fed to livestock or ends up on the kitchen table.
I do see some merit in the government helping farmers for a few years to get started in these carbon-sequestering practices, but more important are educational efforts to help farmers be effective in using those practices. The old adage applies: give a person a fish and you will be giving them fish for a lifetime; teach each a person to fish, and they will meet their own needs for a lifetime.
If the Biden administration can somehow capture a holistic approach by supporting the education necessary for farmers to grow healthy food, it will be a win for producers, a win for the people, and a win for the planet.