Washington, D.C. — This week, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) alongside eight of their Senate colleagues introduced legislation to help small farms access federal conservation programs delivered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Colorado U.S. Representative Yadira Caraveo will introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“After hearing stories from young, beginning, and underserved farmers and ranchers across Colorado, it is clear our federal conservation programs are not living up to their promises. By making these programs more accessible for farms and ranches of every size, we can make it easier for producers to adopt soil health practices, and protect the environment while bolstering resilient local food systems,” said Bennet.
“Programs like EQIP have been critical in supporting farmers and conservation efforts in New Mexico. Despite these strides, larger farms have been prioritized while small farmers have fallen through the cracks. In New Mexico, 52% of farms are less than 50 acres, making them less likely to qualify for the current EQIP,” said Luján. “That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Small Farm Conservation Act to support small farmers and ranchers and help them access financial and technical assistance."
“Small family farms are part of the fabric of Ohio communities and vital to our state’s economy. Too often, these small farmers don’t have all the resources available to big agriculture, and they can’t compete,” said Brown. “By updating and improving our conservation programs, we can ensure small farms get the support they need to continue to be stewards of the land.”
“I have traveled all over Northern Colorado to hear from local farmers, ranchers, and producers as we begin crafting this year’s Farm Bill. One of the most pressing issues they face is the scarcity of resources in the West. Our family farmers and ranchers deserve a fair shot at adapting their businesses. I’m proud to join Senator Bennet and our colleagues to help position these local farms for success in Colorado and across the country,” said Caraveo.
“As our climate crisis worsens, we should be making it easier — not harder — for those who feed our nation to access assistance needed to improve soil health and conserve natural resources on their land,” said Heinrich. “This legislation would unlock new financial resources to provide much-needed support for small farmers and ranchers in New Mexico and across the country, while growing our economy and protecting our environment.”
“Family farmers and ranchers in Oregon and nationwide play an essential role in conservation, but often face financial barriers to farming practices that improve soil health and reduce carbon emissions. Our bill has one goal — making it easier for underserved and small family farms to access federal funds to get this important work off the ground. It's a win-win-win for the climate, for family farmers and ranchers struggling to compete with the big guys, and for the American families they feed,” said Wyden.
“Small farms are the backbones of communities across Maine,” said King. “The Small Farm Conservation Act is a commonsense step to streamline access to federal assistance for small, family owned farm businesses. Tailoring these financial and technical assistance programs will create stronger farming communities and help put more delicious, local agricultural products on our grocery store shelves.”
“Farming is so important to Rhode Island’s economy, heritage, environment, and our way of life. Our farmers care deeply about the environment and water, soil, and land conservation. Making it easier for family and smaller farms to leverage EQIP funding and support is critical. This bill will ensure our farmers have all the tools they need to carry out conservation practices and make their land more resilient for years to come,” said Reed.
“Small farms are the backbone of Pennsylvania and our country. Their success is critical to our agricultural, economical, and environmental health. That’s why we need to make sure we are setting them up for success by providing them with federal resources to stay competitive with big agriculture. I’m proud to join the Small Farm Conservation Act to ensure small farms can access the assistance they need,” said Fetterman.
“USDA conservation programs like EQIP are vital to help New York producers implement sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices on their land,” said Gillibrand. “Burdensome application processes and inequitable assessment of applications have long been barriers for small and beginning farmers’ ability to access EQIP funding and support. The Small Farm Conservation Act would reduce these barriers and ensure that New York’s small and beginning farmers have access to the funding and technical assistance they need.”
USDA’s EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that offers farmers and ranchers financial cost-share and technical assistance to implement conservation practices on working agricultural lands. Small farms and ranches often find it difficult to navigate federal conservation programs and, because payment rates are based on acreage, they face meaningful pay discrepancies compared to larger agricultural operations. Small farmers who wish to undertake soil health practices have to dedicate the same time and effort as larger farms to access EQIP while only receiving a fraction of the benefit.
The Small Farm Conservation Act modifies EQIP to create a new subprogram dedicated to helping small farmers and ranchers access and receive adequate financial and technical assistance.
Specifically, the Small Farm Conservation Act would:
- Create a subprogram within EQIP tailored to support small farms and ranches;
- Establish a National subprogram Coordinator and one in each State;
- Streamline the application and approval processes for small farmers and ranches;
- Create a bonus payment for farms under 50 acres employing soil health practices;
- Allow small farms to enroll on a continuous basis instead of waiting for the annual ranking period; and
- Require the Natural Resources Conservation Service to train field staff on conservation tailored for small-scale agriculture and to conduct outreach to small-scale farmers and ranchers.
“The Yampa Valley region is home to an extraordinary set of small farms that have helped to define the region for decades. Many of these farms are still family run, passed down generation to generation. The long term health of these farms and the livelihoods of the ranchers and farmers who manage them depend on being able to adapt to a more drought-resilient future. Greater access to and support from the EQIP program will go a long way to helping them realize this future. The Yampa Valley Sustainability Council is proud to support Senator Bennet’s legislation supporting small farms and needed resilience pathways,” said Michelle Stewart, Executive Director, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.
"Helping family farms put more conservation-minded practices in place can make a real difference in land health, watershed resilience, and farm productivity. Our farms and food system are at risk from climate change, but they can also be tremendous assets in addressing it. Directing more support to small family farms can be a real boost for Colorado agriculture and an important investment in its sustainable future," said Pete Kolbenschlag, Director, Colorado Farm & Food Alliance.
"Accessing the USDA conservation programs has been a real nightmare for me and other small-scale producers in my community. The Small Farm Conservation Act will help young, beginning, and under-represented farmers access conservation programs and adopt important soil-health practices, without taking so much valuable time away from growing essential, healthy food for their community," said Lauren Kelso, Flatirons Young Farmers Coalition.
“Colorado's next generation of farmers and ranchers like myself stand strong in their support of the Small Farm Conservation Act. It holds the potential to empower and support small-scale farms and ranches that are actively implementing cutting-edge sustainability. Up until now, many small CO farms have been paying out of their own pockets to implement these practices due to historic exclusion of small farms from EQIP programs. With this bill, we are sending a clear message that small, family farms and ranches like mine can continue to lead the way towards a more environmentally-conscious agricultural future,” said Evanne Caviness, Western Organizing Manager, National Young Farmers Coalition.
“Ensuring that conservation programs serve small farms is a top priority for NSAC, as many of our members serve small farmers directly every day. We are excited to see a strong slate of common sense reforms in the Small Farm Conservation Act. These changes will deepen USDA's institutional understanding of small farms, increase EQIP's ability to compensate small farmers implementing soil health practices, and improve the outreach, application, and technical assistance processes small farmers experience when accessing conservation programs,” said Jesse Womack, Conservation Policy Specialist, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
"The Small Farm Conservation Act is an important step in supporting young farmers who are interested in both feeding their communities and taking care of our shared resources. This bill directly addresses the challenges that these farmers face when trying to access EQIP cost-share dollars by breaking down barriers and simplifying application processes. The National Young Farmers Coalition is grateful to the leadership of the bill’s sponsors and looks forward to continuing to ensure that NRCS programs work for the next generation of farmers,” said Lotanna Obodozie, Climate Campaign Director, National Young Farmers Coalition.
“Many organic farms are small,” said Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director of Organic Farmers Association, “and OFA is happy to support the Small Farm Conservation Act, which would increase access and reduce paperwork burden for small farmers.”
In addition to Bennet, Luján, and Brown, this legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Angus King (I-Maine), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and John Fetterman (D-Pa.).