Massive storms recently unloaded on central Iowa, where many farmers already lost their land to flooding earlier this year. Unfortunately, climate chaos is becoming the new normal for farmers across the county. According to the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment, “rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States,” leading to declines in crop yields, more price instability, and threats to rural livelihoods. Along with climate change, farmers are getting squeezed by increasingly powerful agriculture company consolidation. After a recent wave of mergers, only four companies control nearly all of the seeds and pesticides that farmers plant. This level of corporate consolidation hurts small producers and locks farmers and eaters alike into a chemically-intensive industrial agriculture system that can harm ecosystems, undermine food security, and exacerbate the climate crisis.
That’s why Friends of the Earth Action is focusing on two key agriculture issues in the Presidential campaigns: where candidates stand on corporate consolidation and what their plans are to transition to a just, ecologically regenerative agriculture system which is both climate-friendly and resilient. The candidate with the best policies and the most guts to stand up to Big Ag will not only offer our best hope for ensuring we can feed ourselves now and into the future, but will also provide a compelling vision for people in rural and urban parts of America.
Here’s how the top-polling Democratic candidates stack up:
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Biden just released his plan for rural America. He called for transitioning America’s agriculture towards net-zero carbon emissions. “As president, Biden will ensure our agricultural sector is the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions, and that our farmers earn income as we meet this milestone,” says the Biden campaign.
This is concerning because “Net-Zero Emissions” could allow for the use of offsets and opens the door for false solutions like carbon capture and storage and biomass energy. These false solutions can worsen existing pollution in frontline communities and lead to land grabs. Moreover, by not requiring real emission reductions, “Net-Zero Emissions” can allow greenhouse gas emitters to continue releasing dangerous climate pollution into the atmosphere.
Biden also states that he supports strengthening antitrust enforcement to help farmers who are being hurt by market concentration. In addition, Biden wants to increase research funding for land-grant universities to create new technologies and seeds that are owned by the public, not private companies. An important aspect of Biden’s plan is that he states he will further support small scale farmers by doubling the maximum microloan available to new and beginning farmers to US$100,000, and will work to develop regional food systems to deliver fresh produce to schools, hospitals, and other public institutions from small and mid-scale farmers. While it is encouraging that Biden acknowledges that consolidation is a problem, he fails to call for a break-up of Big Ag monopolies or mention how he would support small and mid-scale farmers transitioning to agroecological practices.
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Warren wants to revitalize rural communities. She calls for wide-ranging investment to create a healthy environment that will allow for successful farming. Her agriculture plan chiefly aims to prevent large corporations from driving small, local, and family farms out of the industry. To achieve this, she calls for trustbusters to regulate anti-competitive mergers. She intends to break up vertically-integrated, anti-competitive Big Agribusinesses mergers that have effectively taken over the market, including reversing the Bayer-Monsanto merger. Moreover, she supports policy that will protect local farmers’ land and property, such as right-to-repair laws, and country-of-origin laws. “We can make better policy choices—and that means leveling the playing field for America’s family farmers,” says Warren.
However, her agriculture plan falls short in a few critical areas. Warren includes no specific mention about promoting organic and ecologically regenerative farming. She fails to disclose plans to address carbon reduction and climate resilience. She doesn’t offer policy that moves the farm industry away from chemical and energy-intensive monoculture production. She offers no plans that encourage farmers to shift to organic, diversified and regenerative farming. Supporting small-scale family farms will lead to a more sustainable food system; nonetheless, Warren fails to propose policy to ensure we move towards more organic and agroecological food systems.
Senator Bernie Sanders
Sanders, on the other hand, lays out explicit plans to support small-scale farmers and provides strategies to encourage more organic and sustainable farming practices. Sanders wants to rebuild rural communities through his agriculture policies. He supports farming policy that appropriately addresses climate change and encourages regenerative farming practices.
Sanders proposes legislation, regulation, and financial tools that will help farmers of all sizes transition to sustainable agriculture and ensure they continue to protect the environment as they farm sustainably. Moreover, Sanders recommends policy that supports small-scale farming, invests in new and beginning farmers and incentivizes rural cooperative businesses and local and regional agriculture infrastructure. His policy provides farmers with a living wage, especially during and after their transition to organic and regenerative farming, including a supply management system so farmers are not forced to overproduce and receive fair prices and supports right-to-repair laws to ensure that they are equipped to succeed independently.
Finally, Sanders’ agriculture plan ensures a shift in public investment away from industrial agribusiness and towards small and medium-sized farmers. He proposes laws that will stop monopolization, break-up existing massive agribusiness and place a moratorium on future mergers to allow small-scale, environmentally-friendly farmers to thrive. “In rural America, we are seeing giant agribusiness conglomerates extract as much wealth out of small communities as they possibly can while family farmers are going bankrupt and in many ways are being treated like modern-day indentured servants,” says Sanders. His proposal also provides policy recommendations on issues that impact the agriculture industry including education, health care, immigration, and rural economic development. Sanders intends to transition our food system to one that is more local, just, and resilient.
Friends of the Earth Action agrees with Warren and Sanders that we must address and reverse corporate consolidation in order to help avoid climate catastrophe. Corporate consolidation makes it harder for small and mid-scale farmers to compete, which has led to a loss of choice and income for farmers. It has also locked farmers into a chemical-intensive food production system that puts farmers, farmworkers and rural communities at increased risk of exposure to pesticides linked to a range of serious health problems. This system is rapidly depleting vital soil and water resources and the biodiversity upon which our food supply depends. It is producing widespread poverty, inequality, hunger, and public health crises.
Given that the food sector currently generates nearly one-third of all climate-change emissions, we must enact policies that ensure carbon reduction, sequestration and climate resilience. Friends of the Earth Action urges all candidates to support a moratorium on all future agriculture mega-mergers and break-up existing Big Ag monopolies. We also urge candidates to adopt an agriculture platform that supports a just transition to a sustainable food and agricultural future centered on America’s farmers, ranchers, fishers and workers as outlined in this letter.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden.