[This blog post is taken from Krista Brewer’s newsletter, The Political Peach, which is sent out biweekly and covers political issues happening in Georgia. In this installment, GCV’s Political Director, Allie Brown, was featured to discuss the importance of the upcoming Farm Bill. You can subscribe to receieve The Political Peach in your inbox here.]
Today, the Political Peach welcomes guest writer Allie Brown, Political Director with Georgia Conservation Voters. Allie is usually behind the scenes supporting me in the production of the Peach, but today, she’s here to share her perspective on the pending 2023 Federal Farm Bill. The reauthorization process of the bill is important not just for Georgia farmers, but for every one of us across the state. She narrows in on the historic climate provisions within the bill and identifies the key Georgia lawmakers pivotal in its passage later this year.
The 2023 Georgia Legislative Session officially adjourned for the year in March, and our team at Georgia Conservation Voters (GCV) was on the ground doing what we could to move legislation forward to advance our climate agenda. It’s always a bit of a slog, but we had some notable wins, including expanding and restoring trust funds that will continue to clean up our state, obtaining $500K for the Georgia Agriculture Department to increase oversight on sludge in our soil, and defeating multiple anti-solar bills. You can read our full recap here.
We are now turning our focus to D.C. for the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization process. The federal Farm Bill is comprehensive legislation that outlines the nation’s agricultural policies and programs. This wide-ranging bill governs the major food and agricultural system we underwrite with public money and is truly a lifeline to many Georgia farmers, providing them with disaster aid and agricultural subsidies.
For those of us who live in large cities like Atlanta, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the agricultural industry. But the reality is that no matter where you live in Georgia, farming and food policy impact you. The federal Farm Bill affects millions of jobs, the cost and availability of food, the crops that are grown, and how they’re produced. It also funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, which provides food assistance to low-income individuals. Nearly 15% of Georgians last year relied on these benefits to feed their families. The 2018 Farm Bill included over $400 billion to cover a range of issues such as crop insurance, conservation, research, nutrition programs, and rural development. Now, five years later, Congress must review and reauthorize the policies and funding levels in the 2023 Farm Bill.
I won’t be exploring every piece of the bill in detail (for a great overview check out this resource here), but will focus on the climate resilience programs that aren’t receiving enough of a spotlight in our state.
The agriculture industry contributes over 11% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions because of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste. For too long, these major contributions to the climate crisis have been ignored. To cut carbon in the agriculture sector, we need to grow food in ways that benefit the land, sequester carbon, foster plant-forward diets, reduce food waste, and increase composting.
The majority of farmers in our country are seeing and feeling the impacts of a changing climate firsthand, and recent polling indicates that farmers overwhelmingly believe in climate change. We might call ourselves the Peach State, but a warmer climate has increasingly created challenges for farmers in Georgia to effectively produce crops; peaches are just one of the crops taking a hit.
When farmers incorporate more sustainable practices into their work, it not only curbs greenhouse gas emissions but also makes farms more resilient and productive. But right now, it’s hard for farmers to incorporate sustainable practices into their farms partly because the necessary equipment is extremely expensive.
Last year’s passage of the historic Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was the largest and most significant climate legislation in U.S. history, including $20 billion for climate-smart agriculture and conservation technical assistance. It’s the single largest investment into agriculture conservation and rural communities in decades and will incentivize farmers to use environmentally friendly practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bolster the health of their land.
These investments are our chance to make farmers and rural America a part of the solution to the climate crisis while providing farmers with opportunities to diversify their revenue, reduce their costs, and be more sustainable overall. But the IRA funding must be allocated through the Farm Bill reauthorization process for farmers to access those resources. Climate activists fear that the new GOP majority in the House will push to cut climate funding and many other crucial pieces of the Farm Bill to reduce overall spending.
Lawmakers are in the early stages of crafting legislation, and the timeline is fairly tight. The 2018 Farm Bill is set to expire this September. Once again, the spotlight is on Georgia to help move this bill over the finish line because four Georgia legislators are in key leadership positions.
Georgia Republican Congressman Austin Scott serves as the vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. So far, he’s been a vocal opponent to cutting various programs, like SNAP. Additionally, Georgia Democrat Congressmen, David Scott and Sanford Bishop, also serve on the House Agriculture Committee and are pushing back against these kinds of cuts and advocating for additional funding for programs to support natural disasters and crop insurance. Congressman Scott was previously the Chairman of the committee, but with Republicans taking over the House, he’s now the top-ranking Democrat and serves as the Ranking Member. Congressman Bishop is also the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, giving rural Georgia strong representation by advocating for rural development.
Georgia also has influence in the Senate, given that Senator Raphael Warnock has served on the Senate Agriculture Committee since he was elected in 2021 and should be a strong proponent for conservation programs. Senator Warnock has been very vocal about the need to address equity and support for minority farmers in the Farm Bill and has been visiting farms all across the state this year. (To see some of the difficult challenges Black farmers have historically and currently face in Georgia, take a look back at this Peach issue in July 2021).
Ultimately, this is a crucial moment to address the severe challenges facing Georgia’s farming community due to the climate crisis, and we have to keep up the pressure in D.C. to ensure that these funds make it into the final bill. You can join us at Georgia Conservation Voters by sending a message to your Congressmembers to act on climate in the 2023 Farm Bill here.
What I’m Reading: George Chidi recently shared a speech he gave last March discussing inequality in Atlanta and breaks down what he calls the “Seven Social Classes” of Atlanta. It’s long but I couldn’t put it down and has made me think differently about class, race, and homelessness in our city.
What I’m listening to: I wanted to shout out one of my favorite local political podcasts, VoteHer, where Rep.Teri Anulewicz, former State Senator Jen Jordan, and longtime Atlanta-based radio host Mara Davis talk about Georgia Politics. The most recent episode highlights Georgia’s new marijuana laws.