The last few years have been quite turbulent for the agriculture industry and, as with any transition into a new administration, farmers and ranchers are uncertain about changing leadership. The trade wars seemingly defined the Trump administration, and the agriculture industry is anxiously awaiting the effects of the coming four years.
President Joe Biden has only been in office for a mere few weeks, but has already introduced policy that will impact the agriculture industry, and mentioned more plans during his campaign, but what will they do for agriculture, and will they be beneficial?
Under the U.S. Citizenship Act 2021, immigrant farmworkers will be eligible to apply for green cards if they have worked a minimum of 100 days during four of the previous five years. This three-year path to citizenship will require undocumented farmworkers to undergo a criminal background check.
Beginner, Young Farmers and Ranchers
Over the past few decades, the percentage of the population directly involved in production agriculture has declined. Less than two percent of Americans are farmers or ranchers, and few are women, beginner, small, or minority producers. The Biden administration plans to expand the microloan program to double the maximum loan amount to $100,000, and will increase funding for ownership and operating loans, which will help beginner farmers gain even more access to equipment, livestock, and other resources to help them break into the industry as new business owners.
Perhaps one of the biggest plans the Biden administration hopes to enact is to achieve net-zero emissions in the agriculture industry. With monetary incentives to help farmers and ranchers reach this milestone, President Biden wants to put more research into building soil carbon and “expand and fortify” the Conservation Easement Program, “to support farm income through payments based on farmers' practices to protect the environment, including carbon sequestration -- for example, through cover crops."
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a largely controversial piece of policy that imposed harsh regulations on the farming and ranching industries. President Biden plans to uphold this legislation and “invest in programs such as Working Lands for Wildlife within the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at USDA that provide incentives, including regulatory certainty, for landowners to engage in voluntary restoration efforts on their lands which create or restore habitats where wildlife thrives and landowners in rural communities can prosper.”
Biden stated during his campaign that he “will focus on investments in new water infrastructure, the repair of water pipelines and sewer systems, replacement of lead service pipes, upgrade of treatment plants, and the integration of efficiency and water quality monitoring technologies. We will also take action to protect our watersheds and ensure their resiliency by conserving and restoring wetlands and developing green infrastructure, as well as holding polluters accountable and addressing historic environmental injustice.” With his focus so heavily on the environmental impact of agriculture, his goals for cleaner water will be front and center over the next four years.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture nomination
Tom Vilsack is a controversial choice for the Secretary of Agriculture position but is expected to be confirmed with broad bipartisan support.He was in the same role for eight years during the Obama administration. His plans for the indsutry include investing in more regenerative agriculture practices, renewble energy and local food systems, among other priorities. “Today, the pandemic, racial justice and equity, and climate change must be our priorities,” Vilsack wrote in a remark ahead of his hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.
With fears of increasing regulation and a growing social opinion that tends to villainize agriculture, farmers and ranchers are fair to feel anxiety over how the Biden administration will handle the fragile industry through an ongoing pandemic and trade wars. Conventional producers may have even more fears of the effects President Biden’s environmental goals will have on their livelihoods. Only time will tell how his leadership will impact such a crucial industry.