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local farms

Legion Park Farmers Market, locally grown produce display in Florida, Miami. (Photo by: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Family Farms Can Help Solve Climate Change

To truly mitigate climate change, we need to focus on the long-term economic viability of independent family farms who respect the land and raise animals the right way.

Solving the climate crisis is one of our generation's most important responsibilities, and as independent family farmers from four Midwestern states, we're willing to do our part. But it will require a major shift away from policies that prop up a highly polluting corporate factory farm system that has been gutting rural communities for decades.

A family-farm centered system, with more farmers on the land raising animals on pasture, is best suited to revitalize rural communities, produce a healthy and sustainable food supply and respond to the climate crisis. We're happy to see the Biden Administration and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) take initial steps to respond to climate change and acknowledge policy changes are needed.

Corporate agriculture is not the solution to climate change. It's the problem.

Unfortunately, there is real danger that USDA's climate strategy will prop up the same corporate interests that got us here in the first place. For example, there are proposals for USDA to give taxpayer money to corporate factory farms to produce methane gas from their manure lagoons, incentivizing the biggest contributors to agricultural greenhouse gas emissions; and, the Administration's support for highly speculative market-based schemes (such as carbon trading and carbon banks) that have failed repeatedly, allow polluters to keep emitting greenhouse gases, while farmers who are focused on soil health get pennies to offset that pollution by trapping carbon in the soil.

Some of us have been down this road before. In South Dakota, we participated in the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCE) from 2005 to 2010, when it collapsed. The CCE paid farmers very little for conservation practices that were already in place on our farms. Nothing had changed, no additional carbon was sequestered, but somewhere some polluting company was able to buy credits and claim a boon for the environment.

We have also worked in the corporate ag industry and have seen first-hand the weaknesses of that system. One example is when pigs are born in North Carolina, raised in Iowa, and processed in Los Angeles (traveling more than most Americans in a year), neither efficient nor environmentally sound. This—along with many more examples—highlights the strength of our local family farms over corporate agriculture.

The urgency of the climate crisis is forcing us to face some hard truths. The first is that corporate agriculture is not the solution to climate change. It's the problem..

A few multinational corporations control our commodity and food markets at the expense of family farmers, consumers, the environment and national security. The decades-long trend of corporate consolidation has transformed the livestock sector into a system dominated by factory farms controlled (if not owned outright) by large meatpackers. Corporate factory farms require huge quantities of feed, water, chemical inputs and energy, and waste from factory farms produces potent greenhouse gases.

These factory farms also exploit taxpayer-funded programs, such as USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a conservation program that has been hijacked to help fund factory farm's waste management, and Guaranteed Loan Program, which was created to help family farmers with lower interest loans but is now used to finance corporate factory farm expansion. Investing more of our public resources into the corporate factory farm system will not fix climate change and will not revitalize our communities.

We need to invest in the local food and local processing facilities that will allow family farm agriculture to thrive and feed our communities.

To truly mitigate climate change, we need to focus on the long-term economic viability of independent family farms who respect the land and raise animals the right way. For family farms to respond to climate change, they must be able to make a living, and make long-term investments on their farms, including those that build soil health. Corporate-controlled markets routinely pay farmers below their costs. We need to restore fairness to these markets by strengthening and enforcing antitrust laws; stopping further agribusiness mergers; restoring supply management programs, grain reserves and price floors; prioritizing open and competitive markets; and banning meatpacker ownership of livestock.

We need to stop investing in systems that don't work and start investing in the ones that do. We need a fair price for what we produce, one that covers the cost of using the best practices for our farms and the climate. We need to expand and improve USDA's conservation programs to promote and support farms using practices that are beneficial to soil health and the environment. We need to invest in the local food and local processing facilities that will allow family farm agriculture to thrive and feed our communities.

We can create a strong stable food system that can withstand a pandemic, global economic pressure, and help the climate. Independent family farms and diverse, decentralized ownership of food production, distribution and farmland are the solutions to climate change—now let's get the policies in place that put the tools in the hands of family farmers and ranchers needed to address climate change.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Nick Nemec

Nick Nemec is a Dakota Rural Action member and family farmer in Holabird, SD.


Jon Jovaag

Jon Jovaag is a Land Stewardship Project member and grazing livestock and grain farmer in Austin, MN.


Barb Kalbach

Barb Kalbach is an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member and 4th generation family farmer in Adair County, IA.


Darvin Bentlage

Darvin Bentlage is a Missouri Rural Crisis Center member and livestock and grain farmer in Barton County, MO.

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