Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is proposing a sweeping 10-year plan to carry out the Green New Deal and reshape U.S. agriculture through regulations and subsidies to reduce its environmental impact and push farmers into organic methods and smaller scales of production.
The Democratic presidential candidate’s agricultural proposals feature a $160 billion proposal to pay farmers for keeping carbon in the soil through conservation practices. Another $160 billion would be provided to states to develop food recovery and composting programs that would reduce hunger.
Some $41 billion would be earmarked for transitioning large-scale confined animal feeding operations into “ecologically regenerative practices.”
And to entice urban and suburban residents into producing food, the Vermont senator's plan would offer them $36 billion to “transform their lawns into food-producing or reforested spaces that sequester carbon and save water.”
His plan would dramatically increase the cost of farm programs: The commodity, conservation and crop insurance titles of the 2018 farm bill combined were estimated to cost only about $100 billion over five years.
“Our current food system accounts for 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions,” the plan says. “Not only can we drastically reduce on-farm emissions, farmers have the potential to actually sequester 10 percent of all human-caused emissions in the soil.”
The plan adds, “We need to start by supporting all farmers not just a wealthy few and incentivizing conservation not over-production.”
Sanders calls for increasing enforcement of the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act on “large factory farms,” and making it easier for rural residents to sue farms that pollute their property. “Farm practices should not infringe on the ability of other farmers and neighbors to carry out the normal activities of farming and rural lifestyles,” the plan says.
He also proposes to tighten the H-2A visa program for foreign farmworkers to raise their wages and provide them a path to becoming U.S. citizens.
Like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sanders also wants to bring back Depression-era systems by using supply management and grain reserves to reduce production, prop up commodity prices and cut food waste. He provides few details for the plan but cites as a blueprint an EPA priority list for actions to reduce food waste.
“We will discourage overproduction and ensure farmers receive a fair price for their products by matching the supply with demand using the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which starts with source reduction. This will minimize the impact on the environment by not producing more food than is needed, and ensures we have a reserve of food in case of natural disaster or emergency,” the plan says.
In addition, Sanders wants to challenge the power of large agribusiness companies by rewriting patent law to limit the power of seed companies to protect their technology and guarantee farmers the right to repair their equipment without using agents authorized by the manufacturer.
Among other spending proposals in his plan:
- $41 billion would be set aside to benefit socially disadvantage and beginning farmers;
- $31 billion to help start locally-focused meat and dairy processing plants to compete with industry giants such as Tyson Foods;
- $24.9 billion would be added to the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement program, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to subsidize environmental improvements. Those programs are funded at $10.7 billion over the five years of the 2018 farm bill;
- To address climate change, $1.48 billion would be spent on research on developing region-appropriate farming practices and seeds;
- $1.4 billion is earmarked for the Rural Energy for America Program to subsidize renewal energy projects;
- $500 million to help farmers enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program to transition their land into organic agriculture.
Sanders’ entire Green New Deal plan, which also aims to convert the country’s electric grid and transportation system to 100% renewable power by 2030, would cost $16.3 trillion. He claims that it will generate economic growth and pay for itself in 15 years with a combination of tax revenue and reduced defense spending.
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