Farmer-led conservation education receives bipartisan support from legislative measure

Farmer-led conservation education receives bipartisan support from legislative measure

A new bill called the Farmer to Farmer Education Act has been introduced by a bipartisan team of U.S. senators. The bill aims to support farmer-led education networks and help increase the adoption of agricultural conservation practices. The legislation, proposed by Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), addresses the need to provide guidance and support to these networks, particularly for historically marginalized communities. This collaboration involves organizations such as the American Farmland Trust and the National Young Farmers Coalition.

Conservation practices provide benefits to both individual farmers and society as a whole. By reducing input costs and increasing resilience to extreme weather, farmers can see improvements in their own operations. Additionally, conservation practices lead to better water and air quality, carbon sequestration, and other ecosystem services. Research from the American Farmland Trust shows that investing in soil health practices yields an average return of $3 for every $1 invested. Despite these benefits, many farmers still underutilize crucial conservation practices. For example, only 6 percent of cropland acres were planted with cover crops, as reported in the 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture.

Barriers exist for farmers to adopt conservation practices, including cost, risk, limited access to equipment, and insecure land tenure. Lack of support and technical assistance also present significant challenges. Based on a survey of over 10,000 young farmers in 2022, 15 percent cited the acquisition of necessary farming skills as their top challenge. While the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service offers some technical and financial assistance, farmer-to-farmer education is a missing piece that can help overcome adoption barriers. By learning from experienced farmers who have firsthand knowledge of the benefits and challenges of practice adoption, farmers can address concerns about yield risks, labor costs, and product quality.

Sen. Moran stated that farmers and ranchers across the country face conservation challenges, including staffing shortages at the NRCS, which restrict their access to technical assistance. The Farmer to Farmer Education Act would enable farmer-to-farmer groups to establish cooperative agreements with the USDA, allowing them to share conservation concepts and new practices. A recent survey conducted by the American Farmland Trust revealed that over 50 percent of producers sought conservation education from other farmers, while only 20 percent relied on NRCS. Many farmers are interested in receiving or providing support, but they often don’t know where to start. The Farmer-to-Farmer Education Act of 2023, as part of this year’s farm bill discussions, aims to:

  1. Provide an affordable way to complement traditional USDA and Extension-funded research programs. This would advance knowledge on the long-term adoption of conservation practices, especially in cropping systems or geographic contexts that require tailored approaches.
  2. Foster social support and community, leading to mental health benefits.
  3. Support groups that have traditionally struggled to access traditional conservation programs by building on existing community leadership.

According to Erin Foster West, the Policy Coordination and Management Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition, farming communities possess valuable knowledge on how to adapt to climate events like droughts and floods. The Farmer to Farmer Education Act will invest in knowledge sharing within these communities, allowing young farmers to learn from trusted friends and neighbors. This investment will fill the gap in technical assistance delivery, ensuring that the information farmers receive is in a language they understand and relevant to their cultural farming practices.

NASDA
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