2023 Farm Bill decision likely delayed to the end of the year
Local farmers hope to see incentives for regenerative agriculture added to bill
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Nationwide, farmers are waiting for final updates to the Farm Bill, a $1.5 trillion legislation impacting food production nationwide. Due to congressional debates, the wait will likely last at least until the end of the year.
The bill’s funds are divided into four categories, including nutrition, farm commodities, crop insurance, and conservation, with nutrition making up over 80 percent of the bill.
The first deadline for the bill is on Sept. 30, though Dr. William Snell, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky and co-director of the Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program, doubts that legislators will meet the deadline.
“To get support for agriculture out there, we have to have support for people that support nutrition programs, support for conservation and the environment,” Snell said. “So again, it’s just a group of individuals, a lot of the time with different viewpoints, different wants, and needs, but yet, everybody’s gotta come to the table. Right now Congress is debating a lot on appropriation bills, there’s a lot of whether or not we can keep the government funded, so that’s kind of slowing down the process.”
Snell is optimistic that the bill will be completed by the end of the year, including a $20 billion allocation for conservation farming. Many local farmers hope that these funds will include incentives for regenerative agriculture.
The practice has resurfaced in recent years and focuses heavily on working in harmony with nature rather than against it, planting diverse crops and improving soil quality, as opposed to row cropping which is typically seen with corn, wheat, and soybeans.
“So, the traditional ag practices as we see that, mainly monoculture or corn and beans over and over again, that depletes or degrades the soil eventually,” said Dr. Navdeep Singh, assistant professor of sustainable agriculture at Western Kentucky University. “Obviously we have more production or more yield from that traditional ag practices, or industrial ag, but eventually it depletes the soil from that bacteria or degrades the organic matter, or the organic matter gets lost.”
Some local farmers are already a part of the practice. Willie Huston, owner of Pick ‘n’ Grin Farms in Rockfield, has been practicing regenerative agriculture for the last eight years. Originally purchasing land that had been a host to monocultures for decades, he has removed invasive species and planted biodiverse wildflowers and crops.
He believes that a large part of his success comes from fostering a healthy relationship between the land and his hogs, which he rotationally grazes throughout his grasses and forests.
“In this area, you know it was long ago now, but you’ll see old pictures of green pastures with thousands of buffalo rotating. We can’t do that nowadays because of private property and fences,” Huston said. “I’m not complaining about that, it’s just where we’re at, so we can’t go back to that. So, we have to emulate systems. You can have a whole lot of animals in one spot, and it can actually increase the health of the land if you’re constantly moving them every few days. It’s like the buffalo, constantly moving.”
Dr. Singh explained that the long-term benefits of regenerative agriculture reach beyond any one farm and can have positive global effects when done on a large scale.
“And eventually, all of this is connected to combatting the climate change,” Dr. Singh said. “So, if we sequester more carbon into the soil, then it means that, in other terms, we’re losing less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So, that’s kind of what the whole picture is.”
Huston believes that after eight years of the practice, the results speak for themselves. They’ve yielded healthy crops for his family and his customers while visibly improving the ecosystem around them.
“I keep going back to the saying recently of just, ‘the short-term gains that are actually meager to the landowner or farmer themselves,” Huston said. “They won’t outweigh the long-term losses that we’ll see.’ And we’re starting to see that in our lifetime.”
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