AFT Statement on House Farm, Food, and National Security Act (Farm Bill) of 2024

May 23, 2024

By Tim Fink

The House Farm Bill makes critical reforms to improve conservation programming for farmers, while seizing on the historic opportunity to use Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding to build long-term conservation baseline. This would enable even more farmers to protect their land and implement the very practices needed to build more profitable, resilient, and sustainable operations not just over the next two years, but for decades to come.  

AFT especially applauds the increased funding and numerous reforms made to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). With 2,000 acres a day of agricultural land lost or threatened by conversion, our nation is at a critical crossroads for farm and ranchland protection. The House legislation answers the call with so many of the changes that have been requested by advocates for years. These include increasing the federal cost-share for easement acquisitions, providing a lower cost-share option with no federal right of enforcement, clarifying the process for easement modifications, exempting ACEP from Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) requirements, and extending entity certification to RCPP. Together, these would enable more farmers and ranchers to protect the land that is their livelihood and reinvest in their operations. It also would give land trusts and public Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) programs greater flexibility to meet the needs of the landowners with whom they work. 

The inclusion of matching funding for state soil health programs is another crucial step forward. Many states across the nation have been driving innovation in conservation and filling critical gaps in the support offered by federal programs. While we believe this program would be a better fit within RCPP, we applaud Chairman Thompson for bringing additional conservation dollars to the table. This investment would spur more states and Tribes to help farmers protect soil, improve water quality, and build resilience to extreme weather.  

The House bill also proposes important measures to advance Smart Solar policy, given the prominent role that farmland and farmers are expected to play in our nation’s solar buildout. At this pivotal moment, good policy is essential to advancing renewable energy while keeping productive land in farming and supporting farm viability. The House bill would study the impact of solar on productive farmland, farmland access, and local farm economies and direct USDA to develop best practices that protect soil health during construction, operation, and decommissioning. It would also advance the study of agrivoltaics – projects that pair solar and farming. These critical steps would inform local decision-making and create a path forward that simultaneously advances clean energy and strengthens rural communities. 

At a time when record land prices are placing the dream of farmland ownership out of reach for so many new farmers, AFT appreciates the reauthorization of the Commission on Farm Transitions—Needs for 2050. This commission would provide a platform for identifying the transition barriers facing both retiring and aspiring producers and provide policymakers with concrete recommendations to address this national concern. Additionally, AFT appreciates the inclusion of a new PFAS research initiative focused on understanding the sources of PFAS and opportunities for remediation.   

While AFT considers the legislation to be a win for conservation, we welcome additional bipartisan discussion on how the next Farm Bill can more fully address climate change, meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable, and best serve small and midsized farmers. Specifically, as the process moves forward, AFT recommends that the Farm Bill also include authorization of the Regional Food Business Centers, establishment of an Office of Small Farms, and greater support for farmer-to-farmer conservation education.  

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