Oregon Tilth provided comments to the Senate Special Committee on Climate Crisis, answering questions through our representation of and belief in organic food and farming. The climate crisis represents an enormous economic, environmental, and social justice challenge worldwide. While the agricultural sector is on the front lines of climate change impacts, we must acknowledge that farm resiliency and viability is threatened by a larger framework of issues.
We believe the sustainability of the agricultural sector requires tackling other associated issues, such as:
- Spreading risk and reward across the food supply chain through price parity, equitable liability management, and a supply management system that guards against the damaging effects of boom/bust cycles of overproduction and food shortages.
- Addressing workforce challenges involving labor supply, immigration, and fair wages.
- Outsized influence of the agricultural input industry. Currently, USDA can’t highlight the environmental, economic and public health benefits of organic agriculture. While the EU sets ambitious goals for 25% organic production by 2030, the U.S. is in regulatory capture and unable to act.
- Some of the USDA NRCS’s conservation programs perpetuate unhealthy and low resilience systems through continued financial support. Vital and limited funding goes to improving broken systems (mega-sized CAFOs) and mitigating risks (IPM 595- pesticide mitigation) instead of incentivizing management-intensive grazing, reducing pesticides or using Integrated Pest Management strategies.
- We must challenge the dominant narrative of producing the cheapest food to feed everyone. Instead, we must adopt a Total Cost Accounting system that factors and exposes the environmental, climate and public health costs of so-called “cheap food.”
- Supporting rural America by investing in healthcare infrastructure and delivery, small business economic development, and bridging the digital divide with access to high-speed internet.
- Challenging the “bigger is better” mindset by enacting common sense checks on corporate consolidation and monopolies. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed weaknesses in overly concentrated supply chain infrastructure and ownership, which cannot withstand major disruptions.
In our pursuit of climate crisis solutions for agriculture, we must recognize the significance of the above systemic and institutional issues. If we don’t address these systemic issues, then implementing proposed solutions discussed below will fail to ensure agricultural viability. We strongly encourage the creation of a Senate Committee on Agricultural Resiliency and Viability to address these issues in a holistic manner.
As this Committee begins to review and make recommendations on specific climate-related policies, programs and investments, we hope it will continue to invite and engage participants who reflect the diversity and innovation of this nation’s agricultural community, including those that have historically been underserved such as new and beginning, organic, and black, indigenous and people of color farmers.