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The Farm Bill sets the course for our food and agriculture system in the U.S. — and right now, there's a lot that's not working. How did we get here? And how can we fix it? Coming soon from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a new 6-part podcast series: The Farm Bill Uprooted. Listen to Episode One here.

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00:00:00 Silvia Secchi 

And so it's really sad that our farm bill in 2023, we're still centering extractive production methods to the detriment of the environment. It's like we've learned nothing. 

00:00:21 Lilly 

From the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy comes a new podcast series about the farm bill, how it works, how it's shaped the food and agriculture system in the U.S., for better or for worse, and how we can start to try to fix it. Coming soon: It's the Farm Bill Uprooted. 

00:00:43 Michael Happ

A huge reason there is a a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico today is because of things like tile drainage, where you're trying to get water off of farmland as quickly as possible and diverting it into streams and rivers and then you have huge issues like nitrate runoff. 

00:01:00 Kate Hansen 

And what I can tell you is the folks that I get the most questions from are those that I would say are doing something different than their neighbors. That might be somebody that wants to implement conservation, somebody growing specialty crops or that is organic or that has a really small operation, but frankly, the crop insurance system, the crop insurance programs are not working as well for those folks as they are for the conventional corn and beans produced right down the road from me. 

00:01:31 Steve Suppan

The Credit Title is not designed to support sustainability. It's designed to support maximum production for trade. 

00:01:42 Karen Hansen-Kuhn

So if we zoom way out and we think about the way these programs evolved historically, there was massive overproduction generated by a number of incentives in Farm Bill and other programs. And this notion that farmers should get big or get out. 

00:01:58 Margaret Krome-Lukens 

Get big or get out. 

00:01:59 Ray Jeffers 

Be big or go home. 

00:02:02 Erin McKee VanSlooten

I will say that when these big picture policies are being set, the concerns of the largest agribusinesses or you know the big farms, are kind of coming first and then these small to midsized or emerging farmers, immigrant farmers, BIPOC farmers are kind of an afterthought in the process. 

00:02:27 Ray 

A lot of our farmers of color, particularly black farmers, BIPOC farmers are small farmers. And so throughout that consolidation era we saw in America, they weren't able to keep up and the policies weren't written for them to keep up. 

00:02:42 Margaret 

And once you create a system in which people with more resources are set up with supports for success, and those things are harder for people with fewer resources to access, and you have created, you know, a racial wealth gap, then you have a racist system that runs itself. 

00:03:01 Ben Lilliston

But we're also seeing climate disruptions. We're seeing a serious drought that has affected much of the country and affected production. 

00:03:07 Steve 

You know at what point does that system break down because you have failed to act? First to make your production system sustainable, climate resilient and to construct a fair, reliable agricultural labor pool? 

00:03:22 Marc Grignon 

We can talk all day about farm workers. They're working in horrible conditions. They're being hit with pesticides all the time. Because no one you know, no one has the decency to think that they're human beings. 

00:03:34 Silvia 

So even though in theory we have the tools to address this – and I cannot emphasize how important this is in terms of the farm Bill as well – we have no resources. 

00:03:48 Michael 

In 2022, about three in four farmers who applied to EQIP and CSP were rejected. By and large, the big factor there is a lack of funding. There's only so much money that goes toward these programs every year, and once the pot is up, they can't give out any more contracts. 

00:04:06 Margaret 

A lot of the work that we do is related to access to credit at the Farm Service Agency, which historically has been known as quote the lender of last resort? 

00:04:17 Marc 

The lender of last resort. 

00:04:19 Ben 

And I think you know who's paid the price has really been rural communities in in multiple ways. I mean, seeing a massive loss of farmers and some of the farms who have survived are just big, and so farmland consolidation means fewer people living in rural communities. Most of the farm-related businesses are now controlled by outside companies. They may be even global companies, so you don't have your local business where the money is being recirculated in the community it's being. 

00:04:53 Elston Tortuga 

I think like one of the most shocking statistics I've ever heard is that 90% of our food in Iowa is imported. We're an ag state, and yet 90% of the food that we actually eat is coming from outside of our state. That just doesn't seem right. 

00:05:09 Erin 

And I think what's really interesting is like a truly community based food and farm system will support both small farmers and, you know, nutrition access at the same time. 

00:05:21 Silvia 

If we change the way our institutional purchases are made right and how our children are fed in school, you would have huge impacts there as well. 

00:05:33 Ben 

Farm Bill is largely a spending bill, and it's about where are we going to spend? What are we going to set priorities for, how we're going to spend public money, and that's how we've seen a lot of our system grow is you have the public spending incentivizing one system of production and then we have a regulatory system that is just given exemption after exemption for large scale agriculture. So you put all those pieces together and that's where we are. It's not a pretty picture. 

00:06:05 Lilly 

That seems really bad! 

00:06:08 Ben 

It's really bad! (laughs) Maybe that should be the theme of this podcast... “That sounds really bad!” 

00:06:24 Lilly 

Listen to the Farm Bill uprooted at or wherever you get your podcasts. 


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