President Biden said he is responding to decades of decline in farm numbers and “hollowed out” rural communities with projects to diversify farm income and to encourage local food production and marketing. “It’s about making things in rural America again,” said Biden on a farm in southern Minnesota on Wednesday.
During a 20-minute speech, Biden pointed to a $1 billion initiative to expand independent meat processing capacity, billions of dollars for climate mitigation on the farm, and efforts to curb the price-setting power of big seed, chemical, and farm equipment companies. When he ran for office in 2020, Biden said farmers could make money while combating climate change.
But farmers, often politically conservative, are climate skeptics. Work in Congress on the new farm bill was deadlocked over demands for higher spending on crop subsidies with major cuts in climate funding as the only obvious way to pay for them.
Farm income has been far above average since 2021, but production costs have climbed relentlessly, aided by inflation. The monthly Ag Economy Barometer, a gauge of farmer confidence, has been on the decline since January. “Weakening prices for major crops and ongoing concerns about high production costs and interest rates weighed on producers’ minds this month,” said the Purdue University report in October.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says climate-smart practices, such as cover crops and reduced tillage, will give farmers the chance to earn money for sequestering carbon in the soil. Local marketing and processing can generate larger revenue for rural communities, according to Vilsack. Innovation can turn agricultural waste into valuable products.
“Instead of doing what they have to do now, depending on one income stream, being at the mercy of the commodity markets and big corporations, under our plan, farmers can diversify and earn additional income,” said Biden.
By contrast, said the president, farm numbers have dropped by 400,000 since the 1980s, and with fewer farmers, Main Street businesses in small towns have fewer customers. “All over rural America, young people are saying to their parents, ‘Can I live here any more? You gave me an education, but there’s nothing for me here,’” said Biden.
To watch a video of the speech, click here.