WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) joined Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to introduce the Small Farm Conservation Act, legislation that would help small farms access federal conservation programs delivered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
“As our climate crisis worsens, we should be making it easier — not harder — for those who feed our nation to access assistance needed to improve soil health and conserve natural resources on their land,” said Heinrich. “This legislation would unlock new financial resources to provide much-needed support for small farmers in New Mexico and across the country, while growing our economy and protecting our environment. The Small Farm Conservation Act works hand in glove with my efforts in the annual Agriculture Appropriations bill to expand access to conservation programs for small farmers and producers, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get these important polices included in the upcoming Farm Bill.”
“Programs like EQIP have been critical in supporting farmers and conservation efforts in New Mexico. Despite these strides, larger farms have been prioritized while small farmers have fallen through the cracks. In New Mexico, 52% of farms are less than 50 acres, making them less likely to qualify for the current EQIP,” said Luján. “That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Small Farm Conservation Act to support small farmers and ranchers and help them access financial and technical assistance."
USDA’s EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that offers farmers and ranchers financial cost-share and technical assistance to implement conservation practices on working agricultural lands. Small farms and ranches often find it difficult to navigate federal conservation programs and, because payment rates are based on acreage, they face meaningful pay discrepancies compared to larger agricultural operations. Small farmers who wish to undertake soil health practices have to dedicate the same time and effort as larger farms to access EQIP while only receiving a fraction of the benefit.
The Small Farm Conservation Act modifies EQIP to create a new subprogram dedicated to helping small farmers and ranchers access and receive adequate financial and technical assistance. Heinrich and Luján are advocating for this legislation to be included in this year’s Farm Bill, the reauthorization of USDA agriculture and nutrition programs every 5 years.
“New Mexico's farmers have always faced some of the most challenging climate and economic conditions in the country, and in the face of drought and climate change, these difficulties have only intensified. The Small Farm Conservation Act is a necessary step to support small producers from across our state who are already addressing climate change through farming, including Indigenous practices that are in harmony with our state's harsh climate. With this marker bill, we are championing these land stewards whose steadfast work has not gone unnoticed. Their efforts to feed their communities are worthy and their commitments to addressing climate change head-on are not only celebrated, but supported by federal programs with the passage of this critical piece of legislation,” said Alicia Thompson, National Young Farmers Coalition New Mexico Organizer.
In addition to introducing this legislation, Heinrich recently secured report language in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill directing the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a streamlined conservation planning and application process for small farms. This Appropriations bill was unanimously voted out of Committee, earning full bipartisan support, with Heinrich serving as Chair of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.
In addition to Heinrich, Luján, Bennet, and Brown, this legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Angus King (I-Maine), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and John Fetterman (D-Pa.).