Carbon farming – part 2

By Hannah Grip, Longmont chapter

The first of these two articles explained the fundamental principles of carbon farming, as well as several incentives that exist for farmers to adopt these practices.

Carbon farming, which is also known as regenerative agriculture or sustainable agriculture, can be costly to implement. Farmers already often have thin margins, and the equipment needed to scale regenerative agriculture operations is expensive.

One possible avenue for regenerative farmers to fund their operations is grants. But it’s essential to understand these grants within the context of U.S. farm policies and spending more broadly to recognize the limitations of grant funding for widespread adoption of regenerative agriculture practices.

Every 5-7 years, Congress passes the Farm Bill, which is an omnibus bill. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2018, and the next one is slated for 2023. Hearings are already underway in committees for this legislation.

While the name suggests this legislation deals only with farming, the Farm Bill also funds food security programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). In fact, the majority of Farm Bill funding goes to these programs. The next largest portion of the funding package goes to subsidies for commodity crops. Only less than 1% of the $428 billion allocated in the 2018 Farm Bill for 2019-2023 was dedicated to programs that build back soil, according to Regenerate America, an organization that seeks to increase funding for regenerative agriculture practices in the 2023 Farm Bill.

Some of this funding goes toward grant opportunities for farmers administered directly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other opportunities administered by an agency of USDA, the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Marcus McCauley, of McCauley Family Farms in Longmont, has received grant funding for his carbon farming efforts. He explained that the NRCS has provided funding to farmers since the time of the Dust Bowl, when the government first saw “soil systems collapsing” and recognized the need “to give funding to farmers to implement conservation practices.” The NRCS has funding available for farmers to implement windbreaks, for example, which reduce rates of soil erosion. However, much of the funding offered by the NRCS, McCauley said, goes unused each year.

Tejas Srikanth, graduate of CU Boulder’s Masters of the Environment Program and former fellow with Mad Agriculture, a Boulder nonprofit that supports farmers in adopting regenerative practices, offered possible explanations for this. He said that these grant opportunities aren’t widely publicized, which is part of the reason he created a regenerative agriculture funding report.

Srikanth also noted the application process for these funds is burdensome. He explained that for farmers who are already working 90–100 hours a week, the additional requirements of writing grants is simply not feasible. At Mad Agriculture, he worked on a grant for a Boulder County regenerative farm, and the application was lengthy and complex.

McCauley mentioned the time concern, as well, and said that Mad Agriculture does a good job of recognizing that and supporting farmers through the grant application process. He said farmers “need help navigating the paperwork, bureaucracy, and red tape” involved in grant funding. He said he asks himself, “How much do these things get me out of the field where I need to be farming and growing food and sequestering carbon?”

Without funding for equipment to make harvests easier and quicker, many regenerative farmers harvest by hand, which is time consuming and labor intensive. Srikanth suggested that people can support the regenerative agriculture movement by volunteering their time on farms, while advocating for policy changes that make funding for regenerative agriculture a legislative priority and that remove barriers to that funding.

CCL members can take action to support these policy changes by following the work of Regenerate America and the 2023 Farm Bill hearings. Regenerate America had meetings with 25 Congressional offices in mid-June, including the offices of Committee Chairs and Ranking Members for the Senate and House Ag committees, and will be “asking supporters to contact their Congressional offices following these meetings.” You can follow their work and stay tuned for these calls to action by subscribing to their Mighty Networks page.

Take Action:

Follow the 2023 Farm Bill hearings in the Senate Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Agriculture.

Support regenerative agriculture policy changes by following the work of Regenerate America and contacting Senator Michael Bennet with this template created by Regenerate America (personalize as desired).