-Jessica Manly, Communications Director
The National Young Farmers Coalition (Young Farmers) is a grassroots advocacy organization representing and supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers in the U.S. Over the last decade, they have established a national chapter network of young farmer groups across the country that support each other by organizing trainings and working on local and state policy. Additionally, Young Farmers provides business services and technical assistance, supporting farmers with trainings in food safety, navigating loans, land access and more. They also focus on structural change in their federal policy work, addressing some of the barriers that prevent young farmers from building successful careers in agriculture. Their Colorado chapter is a member of the National Healthy Soils Policy Network, co-led by CalCAN.
“Young Farmers Call for Climate Action”
Young Farmers has made climate change a priority in response to their 2017 survey of over 3,000 young farmers and ranchers, which found that 66% of respondents had experienced on-farm changes due to weather and over half attributed this to climate change. Complementing the national survey is a report produced by the California chapter based on a survey and listening sessions that found climate change ranks high on the list of concerns of young farmers.
In the fall of 2019, Young Farmers released a statement calling for urgent action on climate change. Young farmers face a multitude of barriers, exacerbated by the innate difficulty of inheriting an agriculture system already faced with detrimental impacts of climate change. The statement insists these challenges be addressed in all climate crisis solutions and that strategies that do not tackle land access, equity, and the need for resilience will not be effective. Without immediate and appropriate action, these conditions will only worsen as young farmers’ careers develop.
Some of the central demands of the statement include the need to keep land in agricultural production, that the history of traditional production practices that are now promoted for soil health management must be acknowledged to address equity within the food system, and that policy must create appropriate financial incentives for realistic and attractive mitigation strategies.
“Taking farmland out of agriculture denies us the opportunity to unlock the tremendous climate mitigation and adaptation potential of U.S. soils”
The statement notes the alarming rate at which agricultural land is lost nationwide: 14 million acres from 2012 to 2017. This loss comes with a high price—not only because it threatens our ability to produce food and fiber but because we miss the opportunity to store carbon in soil and woody plants and thereby slow the pace of climate change. The benefits of climate smart agriculture practices are only realized if land remains productive and affordable for the next generation of stewards.
“Climate change exacerbates food justice issues and inequity”
Young Farmers makes the case for ensuring that historically underserved farmer groups and socially disadvantaged communities are both involved in the design process of agricultural climate solutions and are beneficiaries of the outcomes. The statement highlights that many healthy soils practices—cover cropping, crop diversity, crop rotation, etc.—are traditional and indigenous farming practices that have been in use for thousands of years, long before many federal and state-level programs developed to incentivize the adoption of these types of practices, and no compensation or acknowledgement has been made. A more resilient and stronger food and farming system needs to address historical exploitation and value these contributions and concerns.
“Farmers need policies and programs that provide financial incentives and make mitigation strategies desirable and practical.”
The statement identified the following actions necessary to address the climate crisis:
- Additional funding and capacity for public agriculture and climate research;
- Reforming and increasing funding for existing federal and state conservation programs;
- Expanding extension services and technical assistance to producers on sequestering carbon and adapting to the changing climate;
- Expanding platforms for climate knowledge sharing through climate hubs, extension programs, and land-grant universities;
- Improving and increasing outreach for existing federal and state programs, especially to farmers of color, women, and beginning farmers; and
- Creating green payments to farmers and ranchers for ecosystem services.
Young Farmers responds to COVID-19 crisis
The current COVID-19 crisis also amplifies many of the challenges in our food and farming system, especially impacting young farmers and small-scale operations. Farming is inherently a risky endeavor and the current pandemic has created even more uncertainty in a particularly busy time of year. In the states where agriculture services have been deemed essential, many Young Farmers members are seeing increases in demand for their products. In some cases, market channels that once were ancillary are now the primary point of sale, like farm stands or CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). The loss of other more consistent channels, like restaurants or farmers markets, further complicates the situation, even as demand for local produce rises. It is unclear as to whether this trend will remain steady as the year goes on. As a result, farmers are unsure about if and how they should change production plans already in motion.
In response, Young Farmers staff have been holding listening sessions with their chapters and reaching out directly to their members, with phone calls and by distributing a survey to assess the situation on the ground and where support is most needed. They’ve heard many stories of creative adaptations including aggregating CSAs, virtual farmers markets, and creating online sales outlets.
You can find their COVID-19 statement and resource library here.