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How the Covid Land Rush Is Hurting New Farmers

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The pandemic has inspired city dwellers and investors to buy land in rural areas. That’s driving up farmland prices and pushing some beginning farmers out of the market.

Abel Dowden, age 20, grew up on his family’s beef farm in the Missouri Ozarks. He just got married and is ready to start his own farm. Dowden had his eye on a neighboring place but he is a day late and a dollar short. Over the span of the last year, the price of the adjoining property has tripled. Since Dowden can’t afford the new price, the landowner decided to hold on to it until the right buyer comes along.

What caused this rapid spike in land value? Who will the right buyer be?

The data is still being analyzed but already agricultural economists across the country have noticed a marked increase in agricultural land value caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In this new market, locals looking for their retirement property and out-of-staters looking for some peaceful country living or an easy investment compete with, and often out-compete, new farmers.”When newcomers move in and take that land out of production, they actually threaten rather than boost the rural economy.”

During the pandemic, federal stimulus money has poured into rural communities in the form of small business assistance, farm aid, unemployment benefits and income-based payments. While the money has helped some scrape by this year, it has left others with cash on hand they wouldn’t otherwise have. Levi McDaris, a commercial banker in the Missouri Ozarks, says that in his area many people are turning around and putting that money into land, driving up demand and prices.

At the same time, the uncertainty of Covid-19 prompted investors to seek out stable investments in an otherwise turbulent market. Ag land?—?known for steady, reliable returns?—?has long been a go-to investment for large firms but this last year also saw new people investing in land, says Ray Massey. Massey is an ag economist at the University of Missouri Extension which conducts an annual survey of the ag-land market. Moreover, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low to encourage investment, which has made land purchases easier for individuals and investors.

Those individuals are not only rural people. As Covid-19 has redefined the limits of modern work, urban people have reconsidered city living. Nearly 40% of U.S. adults living in urban areas would consider moving to rural areas according to an April 2020 Harris Poll. Rural housing markets around the country have been blown apart by this sudden demand. In parts of rural California, for example, housing prices have increased by an average of 25% since the start of the pandemic. In the small city of Springfield, Missouri, about an hour West of where Dowden lives, housing prices have increased about 11% since May 2020. This demand extended to ag land, especially into what might be called recreational ag land: often hunting grounds or small 40-or-less-acre lots used for lifestyle farming. While the demand has mostly increased within an hour and a half of larger urban areas, this has also pushed up the value of ag land farther out. 

Since people looking for lifestyle or recreational properties ?“are willing to pay more than the agricultural value,” explains Wyatt Fraas, the farm and community assistant director at the Center for Rural Affairs, ?“all the surrounding ag land gets an increase in value.” The phenomenon has pushed up cropland prices across the U.S. in places like IowaOhio, and Missouri.

Not only has the demand for lifestyle properties pushed up the price of ag land, but non-farming people moving into rural areas have also quickened the development of ag land into smaller, lifestyle plots around rural towns. When media outlets hasten to characterize the flight to the country as a revitalization of rural America, they miss this important part of the picture. ?“When newcomers move in and take that land out of production, they actually threaten rather than boost the rural economy,” says Julia Freedgood, co-author of the American Farmland Trust’s Farms Under Threat report.

Small towns afflicted by the real crisis of business and youth-flight can benefit from the arrival of newcomers, but only when the influx does not come at the cost of ?“ag land being split up” and new farmers being driven out of the land market, says Fraas. He explains that while rural towns do need more families?—?for healthy schools, businesses, and communities?—?land developed outside of town is an economic hardship for small towns because it increases demand for services but not tax revenue. Farmland on the other hand, he said, ?“provides a lot of tax income as well as other economic income. Every farm is essentially a small factory that buys lots of goods and services.”

Moreover, in a world flailing in the fight against climate change, low-density rural development is significantly more energy and greenhouse gas intensive than high-density urban core development, Freedgood explains. This is on top of the direct environmental destruction caused by such development, which breaks up animal habitats, damages watersheds and native ecosystems and, ironically, contributes to the spread of infectious disease.

Despite the economic and environmental costs to local communities, the Farms Under Threat report finds that between 2001 and 2016, nearly 7 million acres of farmland were converted to low-density residential (lifestyle) land use. 

And, of course, conversion into housing developments takes ag land out of the market and drives up land prices. The surging price may be good for landowners but it’s ultimately changing who can afford to become a landowner. Abel Dowden’s neighbor saw his property value triple, but this means Dowden, the new farmer, is unlikely to be able to buy his farm. 

Some of the factors driving up farmland prices?—?such as low interest rates and federal stimulus money?—?probably won’t last. The newfound interest in rural living, however, may stick around or even increase. Currently, about 42 million people—mostly in rural America—are without access to broadband internet. Businesses and families alike view poor broadband access as a major detractor of rural living; thus, broadband access is arguably a major factor limiting rural growth. In response, Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes $100 billion for broadband infrastructure. As rural broadband access increases, more people may want to move to rural areas, buy land and build homes, further limiting the availability of affordable farmland. “The future of farming is not farm ownership because the cost of farm ownership is just getting too high.”

Land access is the number one challenge that young farmers and ranchers face, according to the National Young Farmers Coalition, a network of young farmers fighting for the future of agriculture. As traditional farms and ranches continue to struggle with profitability, fewer and fewer retiring farmers are passing their land onto their children. Instead, their land enters the ag-land market, where it is difficult for new farmers to compete with industrial ag operations, investors, and developers. As prices go up, the imbalance of purchasing power intensifies. The Covid-19 uptick in prices and corresponding rise in investment and non-farming purchases is accelerating this long-running trend. Sadly, says McDaris, a banker who often works with farmers on getting loans, ?“the future of farming is not farm ownership because the cost of farm ownership is just getting too high.”

Independent family farms are the ?“key to maintaining a resilient farm sector and healthy rural communities,” reads one of the National Young Farmers Coalition guiding principles. In fact, small-scale farms are vital not only for rural communities but America’s food system at large. The pandemic made this point all too clear as industrial ag produced piles of pig corpses while people waited in line for hours in food bank lines where supplies were running short. The Young Farmers Coalition finds that not only is farmland overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of older farmers (according to the USDA, the average age of farmers is 57.5), 98% of farmland is owned by white people; it is imperative that new, young, diverse farmers replace aging farmers, not industrial ag behemoths. 

Some states have policies meant to address farmland development and encourage transition to new generations of farmers. These policies can protect agricultural viability and use zoning laws to control low-density sprawl. For instance, under some state programs?—?which are fairly limited in Missouri but more prevalent in other parts of the United States?—?Dowden might be able to sell an agricultural conservation easement on the land in order to make up part of the higher price. This would help him with the purchase now and ensure that the land is not developed even after he is done farming. Some states have also implemented Farm Link programs that connect land seekers with landowners who want their land to stay in agriculture. If such a program was established in Missouri, it might help young farmers like Dowden gain access to farmland.

According to Freedgood, of the American Farmland Trust, there’s a lot of important work to be done on the local level. ?“Good rural planning is incredibly important,” she says. ?“Not just land use planning but comprehensive planning that supports agriculture and rural economies. If done well, not only will it protect the working landscape, it will enhance community resiliency and food security in the face of climate change.”

For now, beginning farmers like Dowden continue to face an uphill battle, only exacerbated by the Covid storm. McDaris, the Ozark banker, reflects?“It’s not that people wanted it to become this way, I think it’s just the unintended consequences of who we are and what we’ve done.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sadie Morris is a former In These Times editorial intern. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Culture and Politics at Georgetown University with a focus on political economy and the environment.


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Why Climate Plans Must Include Farmers of Color

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Hadassah Patterson on Muck Rack

Proposed legislation would give farms resources to fight climate change. Will farmers of color get equal access?

Marvin Frink looks out at his Black Angus cattle farm as the sun is coming up and ponders what’s on the horizon. He and his wife Tanisha started Briarwood Cattle Farm in Raeford, N.C. 10 years ago after Marvin was honorably discharged from the Army, where he served for 15 years, including on a Patriot missile crew. He recovered from service-related injuries and post-traumatic stress issues, and the Frinks purchased their first cattle in 2015 with a grant from the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Now their farm grows beef, pork and chicken available for delivery across the state.

Last year, the Frinks planned to purchase land to expand their cattle operation and incorporate regenerative grazing, a practice that involves frequently rotating grazing animals from pasture to pasture. Marvin Frink knows from his work that overgrazing the same land can be detrimental to the farm and the larger environment. “Regenerative grazing takes bad soil farmers can’t use and turns it back into reusable and sustainable land by having the cattle massage the soil and fertilize it,” he explains.

Regenerative grazing keeps the land and the animals healthy, prevents soil depletion, sequesters carbon, and cuts down on chemical inputs and greenhouse gas emissions. That’s important, because agriculture directly contributes 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the food system as a whole is responsible for as much as 57% of global emissions.

To implement regenerative grazing, the Frinks needed access to more land and applied for loans to buy it. But they were denied a loan, twice. 

“Our credit wasn’t bad, and we had our cattle and farm (value) that superseded the loan,” says Marvin. “We were told we didn’t have enough equity yet.”

Like many farmers of color, the Frinks struggle to get access to farmable land. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Black-owned farmland has shrunk from 15 million acres in 1920 to 4.7 million acres today—only .5% of all farmland in the United States. Unethical rural lenders, biased auction practices and exorbitant tax valuations have eaten into lands owned by farmers of color. Farmers of color also lack access to the capital needed to buy land and equipment, and timely resources for sustainability – such as severe weather insurance processing. This lack of access, and a history of outright discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has left many farmers of color without the resources they need to make their operations more sustainable or to mitigate the effects of climate change on their land.

Existing carbon markets, which pay farmers for environmental contributions, offer a revenue opportunity for farmers of color to harmonize cultural, financial, and sustainability goals. But to participate fully, these farmers need to know these opportunities exist, which is too often not the case, and be empowered to participate equally. If farmers of color are struggling to maintain day to day operations, higher-level concerns such as rebates and credits can sometimes fall by the wayside. Right now, some farmers may even have to pay for third-party help to navigate certifications for carbon markets. For this reason, outreach programming is essential to plans that aim to ensure equal access to resources for farmers of color.

Marvin Frink hopes the Biden administration and Congress will address these problems. To start, he wants to see better access to resources for farmers of color and more equity so they can purchase land and equipment.

The Biden administration has made agriculture central to its campaign against climate change and Biden himself has said he envisions U.S. farmers being the first in the world to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Meanwhile, Congress is debating a range of climate change legislation that would set clean energy standards and provide farmers the funding and tools to reduce emissions and engage with carbon markets for credit of their good work. But some senators are concerned the bills won’t help farmers of all backgrounds participate equally.

Among the over 100 proposed measures pertaining to the environment is the Growing Climate Solutions Act, reintroduced on April 20 by Sen. Mike Braun (R-I.N.), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-M.I.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). The act offers a certification program for farmers, and would empower them to participate in carbon capture and soil improvement practices with provisions like technical assistance. It also provides a credit market rewarding “climate-smart practices” for producers. The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry advanced the bill to the Senate floor with broad bipartisan support from at least 49 senators and over 80 commercial and environmental organizations.

However, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-G.A.) questioned whether the legislation adequately addresses the needs of farmers of color, who were hit particularly hard as the pandemic squeezed small farms and rattled agricultural markets. During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing about the proposed legislation, Warnock put it this way: “Many of these farmers of color and their communities were disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with less than .1% of the nearly $26 billion allocated for USDA Covid relief ending up in their pockets. As we work to address climate change and generate new revenue streams for our farmers, we must include farmers of color and their communities in these conversations. It is a matter of equity and justice. They cannot be left behind. They cannot be an afterthought.”

Asked about Warnock’s concerns, Stabenow spokesperson Patrick Delaney said, “the bill provides resources for smaller and medium-sized farmers to help them scale up the good work they’re doing and make sense of carbon markets.” Following Warnock’s comments, he said, “we made important improvements to ensure the new program, as well as the voluntary markets it supports, will address the unique needs of limited resource, historically underserved, and socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and foresters.” 

The Growing Climate Solutions Act will be considered by the full Senate once added to the calendar. 

In February, Warnock himself introduced the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, which was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee, where it remains. The bill would require the Secretary of Agriculture to provide assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and other groups.

Another upcoming piece of climate and farming legislation is the bicameral Agriculture Resilience Act, authored by Rep. Chellie Marie Pingree (D-M.E.) and introduced with 16 of her House colleagues. It was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). The bill focuses on giving farmers tools to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. It also includes specific provisions, such as reserving 30% of land conservation funds for new and socially disadvantaged farmers, including farmers of color.

“Congress must ensure any resources provided to U.S. agriculture to fight climate change are accessible to farmers of color, particularly given past treatment by USDA,” Pingree told Rural America In These Times. “In the Agriculture Resilience Act, I propose policies to ensure farmers of color can benefit from these initiatives and are offered priority or lower matching requirements for grants and other incentives to adopt climate-smart farming practices.” 

The bill also specifies that the plan should improve public health, resilience, and environmental impact in communities of color and tribal areas. The Agriculture Resilience Act was referred to the House Agriculture Committee.

This focus on racial equity in climate change legislation comes as USDA is grappling with a history of discrimination that has steadily decreased the numbers of Black farmers and robbed them of family farms for generations. Congress and the Biden administration took a step to address this history by setting aside $4 billion of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for debt relief for farmers of color, and an additional $1 billion to improve land access and retention.

Asked what USDA, which oversees the distribution of funds and informational programming, is doing to ensure equitable access, USDA Communications Director Matt Herrick said the debt relief in the American Rescue Plan offered immediate aid to farmers of color, to help them to sustain regular operations. Herrick also said that the new leadership at USDA is revising the agency’s approach to ensure more equitable access to all funding and programs, including creating the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR). The agencies recently established an independent Racial Equity Commission to examine USDA programs and services for accountability within the department, and to empower socially disadvantaged producers to take full advantage of programs. 

USDA is “committed to follow through with actions led from the top by the Secretary [Tom Vilsack], the Senior Advisor for Racial Equity [Dewayne Goldmon], and OASCR,” Herrick said. “We see the upcoming Farm Bill [in 2023] as a perfect opportunity to work with Congress to address structural barriers found in the statutes that authorize critical USDA programs and activities.”

The Frinks are determined to see their farm grow sustainably, and have specific goals to get there. “I’m in need of $50,000 now to purchase land,” said Marvin Frink. But they’re willing to learn more about incentive programs. When asked what makes them so determined, he stated, “creating generational wealth and leaving a legacy standing on God’s faith.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 29, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Hadassah Patterson has written for news outlets for over a decade, with seven years contributing for local online news and 15 years of commercial copywriting experience. She currently covers politics, business, social justice, culture, food and wellness.


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Judge tosses Trump-era pork processing speed-up, this week in the war on workers

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Line speeds in meat processing plants are a classic example of something that’s simultaneously a worker safety issue and a consumer safety issue. And this week, both workers and consumers got a major victory when a federal judge threw out a Trump-era rule allowing pork processing plants to operate at higher speeds.

According to U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture “expressly identified worker safety as an important consideration and requested public comment on whether increasing line speeds would harm workers. Then, after receiving many comments raising worker safety concerns, FSIS rejected the comments and eliminated line speed limits without considering worker safety.” Faster line speeds lead to increased harm to workers, from repetitive motion injuries to knife injuries. And while the Trump rule allowing pork plants to increase line speeds as much as they wanted included a nod to cleanliness … realistically that’s going to suffer too, and the speed increase came as many government inspections were replaced by company-run inspections, with predictable results.

”An agency can’t put its hands over its ears and refuse to consider facts that cut against its policy preferences, as USDA did here in ignoring workers and public health advocates, and blindly following industry’s wishes,” said Public Citizen’s Adam Pulver, who represented workers from the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The Biden administration has already withdrawn a similar speed-up for poultry processing plants that hadn’t yet gone into effect.

A decade ago, the bill got little attention. But last year in September, it passed the House with bipartisan support, with every Democrat voting in favor and 103 Republican joining them. It has gained the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and 30 states across the country have already adopted their own versions — including Southern states like Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina. The pandemic and the election derailed a Senate vote last fall, but this year, advocates think the bill is finally poised to pass. It has 19 Republican cosponsors in the House.

Unions, after all, are simply made up of workers; bills that are good for the former tend to be good for the latter. Workers who face racial and gender discrimination on the job could benefit the most from the PRO Act’s provisions. In unions, said Celine McNicholas of the Economic Policy Institute, “workers of color are not experiencing the same sort of wage suppression that they are in other, non-unionized settings.” Union membership thus correlates to lower racial wealth gaps. “The PRO Act promotes greater racial economic justice because unions allow for collective bargaining, essentially shrinks Black-white wage gaps, and brings greater fairness in terms of hiring opportunities,” she added.

“In the at-will employment system, workers are treated as disposable,” said Sophia Zaman, executive director of Raise the Floor.

The act would require employers to provide a written reason for terminations and progressive discipline to allow workers to improve. It would ban actions designed to force workers to quit, such as reducing hours, and would prevent companies from using electronic monitoring as evidence in employee discipline.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on April 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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Agricultural Workers Lose Millions of Dollars Each Year to Employer Wage Theft

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It’s against U.S. labor laws, but that hasn’t stopped employers from withholding more than $65 million in worker wages over the last two decades.

Tens of thou­sands of agri­cul­tur­al work­ers have been denied wages by their employ­ers—a vio­la­tion of labor laws—over the past two decades, accord­ing to Depart­ment of Labor data. The data shows that the employ­ers didn’t pay a total of $65 mil­lion in wages to their 150,000 employ­ees between 2001and 2019.

Back wages increased from $4.2 mil­lion to $6 mil­lion in 2019 than in 2018, a 44 per­cent increase, accord­ing to the data.

Agri­cul­ture is one of fif­teen indus­tries the DOL con­sid­ers “low wage, high vio­la­tion industries.”

Many in agri­cul­ture are white, but, in gen­er­al, His­pan­ics and immi­grants of col­or work tougher agri­cul­tur­al jobs, such as har­vest­ing fields and slaugh­ter­ing ani­mals. About 27% of the indus­try is His­pan­ic, accord­ing to the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics. Employ­ers who will­ful­ly or repeat­ed­ly vio­late the Fair Labor Stan­dards Act, which cov­ers deny­ing back wages, can be fined up to $1,000 for each violation.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 14, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pramod Acharya is an investigative journalist, data reporter, and multimedia content producer for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.


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EPA reportedly ‘distorted’ meeting notes and workers could be more vulnerable to pesticide exposure

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In November 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency met with several groups representing farmworkers to talk about three provisions of the worker protection rules to make farming safer. Organizers walked away feeling like there was some consensus between the groups, even though there was more work to be done on these issues.

But when the EPA made their two-day meeting notes public and summarized its notes to Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-NM) office a month later, organizers noticed major discrepancies and inaccuracies between their notes and those made by the agency.

In an early March letter addressed to the federal agency, organizers expressed concern that the agency had provided not only a “distorted account” of the meeting, but may have used their group’s participation “to validate or justify Agency actions which are completing at odds with both the EPA’s mission and our own goals of protecting the workers who grow our food, and the communities that surround them, from the harmful effects of pesticides.”

The concerns arose from the two-day November 1 and 2, 2017 meeting when EPA officials met with members of the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC) — comprised of farmworker and health organizations to discuss the Agricultural Worker Protection Final Rule. At the meeting, both sides discussed enforcing a minimum age of workers allowed to handle pesticides; requiring agricultural employers to provide pesticide application information and safety data sheets to a designated representative; and requirements to limit pesticide exposure for agricultural employers to keep workers and other people out of areas known as application exclusion zone (or “AEZ”).

Concerns have persisted since the EPA’s letter to Udall’s office, which appeared to “conflate” some feedback from PPDC members that actually came from those in the agency. Udall has an oversight role over EPA rulemaking.

The EPA’s assertions to Udall about the minimum age provisions were “not correct,” PPDC stakeholders wrote, explaining that the letter made it seem like the PPDC stakeholders agreed that the “family exemption” provision — in which immediate family are exempt from many worker protection standard requirements —  was “not flexible enough to accommodate family-owned and operated businesses of commercial applicators.” In a follow-up email sent from the agency to Udall’s office in January, it clarified that the input was not from PPDC members but rather from comments received as part of the Regulatory Reform docket.

On the issue of a designated representative provision, the PPDC criticized the EPA for telling Udall that “there was not agreement on a practical way to alleviate stakeholder concerns regarding who could qualify to be a designated representative and how the information could be used.”

“This is simply not correct,” the PPDC letter signers wrote, explaining that they agreed on addressing the concerns through the establishment of a short-term workgroup on the issue.

PPDC stakeholders had fewer issues on the discussion of the AEZ, but they said the EPA’s letter to Udall “fails to mention” the “overwhelming support for the provision and that the next step was to issue additional guidance.”

The PPDC members further wrote that they had expressed “serious concerns” about the EPA’s decision to overturn its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, “[h]owever, this input is completely omitted from your letter [to Udall].” Last August, the agency rejected a ban on chlorpyrifos, a widely-used insecticide that has been linked to brain damage and other negative human health outcomes.

“We do not have an expectation that the EPA’s decisions will always correspond with our specific points of view, yet we do expect our views to be heard and we certainly do not expect them to be ignored or mischaracterized simply because they do not fit into a pre-determined political narrative,” the letter signers added.

The alleged troubling mischaracterization of EPA’s public releases of its interaction of stakeholders may perhaps be forgiven if this was a one-off occurrence. However,  pesticides like chlorpyrifos are manufactured by Dow Agrosciences, a division of Dow Chemical which donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. And under the leadership of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency has appeared to take on stances that break from mainstream scientific consensus. Recently, the EPA released guidelines that “promote a message of uncertainty about climate science and gloss over proposed cuts to key adaptation programs,” the Huffington Post reported.

Moving beyond the EPA and PPDC’s war of words, the inconsistency in characterization and feedback ultimately affect one group the most: the 2.5 million farmworkers in the country. The National Agricultural Workers Survey estimated that about half of all farmworkers are undocumented. Under this presidency, they may be afraid to seek medical help if they’re exposed to pesticides out of deportation fears.

“We have to acknowledge that what we know about pesticide poisonings relies on the farmworker actually reporting the issue either via their employer at their worksite,” Andrea Delgado, the legislative director of the health communities program at EarthJustice, told ThinkProgress. “Or they actually went to a doctor to get taken care of and that the medical provider actually knows how to identify the signs of pesticide poisoning.”

“Think about all the things that have to be aligned  — that someone has to feel empowered enough to say I know enough about my rights when it comes to pesticide exposure,” Delgado reasoned.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 30, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Esther Yu Hsi Lee is a reporter at ThinkProgress focusing on domestic and international migration policies. She has appeared on various television and radio shows to discuss immigration issues. Among other accolades, she was a White House Champion of Change.


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Trump targets USDA with some of the deepest proposed budget cuts

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President Donald Trump ran on a platform of giving a voice to rural voters who felt forgotten by politicians in Washington. But his proposed budget, released on Tuesday, proposes deep cuts to crucial Department of Agriculture programs that many rural residents, and farmers, depend on.

The budget proposes an almost 21 percent cut to the USDA, the third-largest percentage cut proposed for any agency, behind the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. It would cut crop insurance?—?which pays farmers for losses due to extreme weather, or compensates farmers for loss if prices are higher than guaranteed at the time of harvest?—?by 36 percent, far deeper cuts than were proposed under the Obama administration. And it proposes to “streamline” conservation programs, while eliminating the rural development program aimed at bringing infrastructure, technology, and utilities to rural communities.

“The Budget Proposal guts the USDA by 21 percent and makes further cuts to programs, all of which will leave rural and urban farmers, low-income families, and taxpayers more vulnerable,” Mike Lavender, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement.

The proposed budget zeroes out programs like the USDA’s Farm Safety program, which seeks to reduce farm sector injuries by training workers in how to properly use farming equipment. It also eliminates programs like the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s watershed protection projects, which helps both protect sensitive watersheds from environmental degradation, like soil runoff, and helps rural communities respond to natural disasters like floods.

“Agriculture is a risky business, and we absolutely need an adequate safety net for farmers while also providing incentives that will accelerate adoption of conservation practices,” Callie Eideberg, senior policy manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress via email. “Eliminating any program that helps farmers increase resiliency and protect natural resources is a shortsighted decision that can have harmful consequences.”

Key research programs aimed at helping farmers adapt to the changing climate?—?like programs that offer grants to farmers interested in experimenting with innovative conservation techniques?—?would also face deep cuts under the proposed budget. More than $33 million would be cut from agricultural research programs like the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which provides grants for agricultural sciences, and the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SARE), which helps farmers fund conservation projects.

“The budget would slash funding for key agricultural research and conservation programs, undermining the ability of farmers to sustain their land and their livelihoods for the future,” Lavender said.

Cuts to USDA research programs would hardly be the first time the Trump administration showed science to be a low priority for the agency. Trump is expected to name Sam Clovis, a conservative talk-show host that denies the scientific consensus on climate change, to be the USDA’s undersecretary of research, education and economics. That would put Clovis in charge of the USDA’s entire scientific mission, including research programs aimed at helping farmers respond to climate change. Current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also denies the scientific consensus on climate change, calling climate science “a running joke among the public” in a 2014 op-ed published in the National Review.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Trump budget does not specify what will become of one of the Obama administration’s signature climate-focused programs within the USDA, the regional climate hubs, which connect farmers with on-the-ground information about climate science and adaptation in their region. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney did say on Tuesday, however, that the budget at large was aimed at decreasing the “crazy” climate spending of the Obama administration.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on May 23, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Natasha Geiling is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Contact her at ngeiling@americanprogress.org.


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