By Bonnie Haugen
It takes a lot to get a farm girl off her farm, but a few weeks ago, I joined a fearless crew of farmers and advocates to make the journey to Washington, D.C. with other farmers from the Midwest. I made the trip to D.C. with the Land Stewardship Project and Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment as the current Farm Bill, which was authorized in 2018, is set to expire at the end of September. We traveled to D.C. to sound the alarm bells and let our legislators know that we need a transformational Farm Bill that protects small, and mid-sized farms and halts trends of corporate consolidation that hurts family farms and once vibrant rural communities.
In southeastern Minnesota, in hilly karst geology, 50 miles from the Mississippi River, my family runs a grazing dairy business with a seasonal herd of 160 cows. My husband and I bought a dairy farm in southeast Minnesota acres 30 years ago. On our 270-acre farm, we use rotational grazing, and our cows graze on pasture with forage that includes grasses, clover, and more. These forages sequester carbon and keeps soil from eroding by wind or water.
At the time when we purchased the farm, there were about 12 dairy farms within a 3-mile radius of us. Now, we are the only dairy. What I have seen in my community mirrors national trends. We are losing family farms at an alarming rate, and the impacts of these trends extend far beyond the farm gate. Many rural hospitals, schools, restaurants and vital services that are the heart of small towns across the country are closing as there are simply not enough people to staff or utilize these resources. The pressure of corporate ag and CAFOs, (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) on the dairy sector in my community has taken away a fair opportunity from the neighbors who wanted to keep or pass on dairy farming.
We do not have large CAFO operations replacing independent family-scale farms simply by accident, or even bad luck. A long list of policies, from environmental rules to farm programs, give these large operations an advantage. For example, federal conservation programs have been diverted from their original purpose by changes that steer their funds to large CAFO operations to subsidize their manure management. A recent report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found that a USDA program called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has been supporting agricultural practices that are not environmentally beneficial or in some cases actively make the environment worse, while thousands of farmers applications for true conservation improvements that could help their bottom lines are turned away. We need a new approach and would like to see the 50% livestock set-aside in the EQIP program be removed, and the cap on the amount of money that can be requested through a EQIP grant be decreased.
Legislators are currently drafting a new Farm Bill, and I believe that there is an enormous opportunity to address corporate consolidation through this new bill. Now is the time that we make our voices heard – the future of our farms and communities depend on us!