President Joe Biden has introduced an ambitious climate plan for the United States. Could regenerative agriculture help us get there?

President Biden has pledged to spend up to $2 trillion on climate change initiatives. “Climate change” is a broad-brush topic, so how will these measures impact food, agriculture and regenerative organic farming? Let’s take a closer look at “The Biden-Harris Plan to Build Back Better in Rural America” and examine how a few key proposals could impact the food system.

Agriculture & The Climate Crisis:

First… what does agriculture have to do with climate change? Agricultural activities are responsible for nearly a quarter (24%) of global greenhouse gas emissions. But building healthy soil by implementing regenerative practices like cover cropping and reduced tillage can help sequester carbon and mitigate the damage to our climate. Reducing reliance on fossil-fuel-intensive synthetic chemicals, grazing animals on pasture, and other organic practices can play a major role.

Biden’s Plan

While President Biden hasn’t directly stated the role that regenerative organic agriculture will play in his administration, these farming practices (and their outcomes!) are uniquely suited to its climate goals. Most notably, the Biden administration has proposed a carbon market to incentivize carbon capture. For farmers, this could mean receiving payments for the carbon they sequester in their soils. Many scientists, agribusinesses and lawmakers agree that healthy soils will be vital to curbing the climate crisis.

Let’s dive deeper and examine some key proposals from the “The Biden-Harris Plan to Build Back Better in Rural America:”

Key Proposal 1:

Help farmers leverage new technologies, techniques, and equipment to increase productivity and profit while tackling the challenge of sequestering carbon and reducing emissions – making American agriculture the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions and create new sources of income for farmers in the process.

  • In Their Words: “President Biden will make a significant investment in research to refine practices to build soil carbon while maximizing farm and ranch productivity. Soil is the next frontier for storing carbon.”
  • What This Means For Regenerative Ag: Regenerative agriculture has the potential to drawdown greenhouse gas emissions and sequester them in the soil due to its emphasis on soil microbiome, reduced tilling, livestock integration, and more. We may soon see the introduction of carbon markets and new technologies that encourage and incentivize regenerative organic farming practices, including a stronger emphasis on the importance of healthy soils. 

*Learn more: Bills like the Agriculture Resilience Act (H.R. 5861) introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree identify agriculture as a major tool in the fight against climate change. H.R. 5861 aims to increase agricultural research, improve soil health, support pasture-based livestock, and reduce food waste.

Key Proposal 2:

Help family farms and other small and medium-sized farms thrive, foster the development of regional food systems, and advance Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

  • In Their Words: “As President, Biden will partner with small and mid-sized farmers to help them collectively create supply chains to deliver fresh produce and other products to schools, hospitals, and other major state and federal institutions. Biden will make sure farmers and producers have access to fair markets where they can compete and get fair prices for their products. He will also support and advance local production for farmers’ markets.”
  • What This Means For Regenerative Ag: Our research has shown that organic farming is 3-6x more profitable than conventional—holding a power to revitalize communities and empower farmers. Incentivizing regenerative and organic agriculture would go far in creating a thriving food system, while increasing the production of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and nuts grown throughout the United States. We may also see tightened antitrust enforcements across the agriculture sector, creating a more equitable farming future while bolstering local food systems.

*Learn more: In 2014, Rodale Institute established an organic farm on the Anderson Campus of the St. Luke’s University Health Network to offer organic produce to patients and staff. On 11.5 acres, our farmers grow thousands of pounds of high-quality, organic produce for distribution to all ten St. Luke’s campuses in the region.

Key Proposal 3:

Expanding protections for farm workers – disproportionately Latinx and immigrant workers – who have always been essential to working our farms and feeding our country. 

  • In Their Words: “President Biden will ensure farm workers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. He will work with Congress to provide legal status based on prior agricultural work history, ensure they can earn paid sick time, and require that labor and safety rules, including overtime, humane living conditions, and protection from pesticide and heat exposure, are strictly enforced.”
  • What This Means For Regenerative Ag: The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the frailties of our food systems in more ways than one, reinforcing the need for the safety and protection of our farmers and ranchers. Organic is a surefire way to avoid exposure to the most dangerous chemicals on the market. Rodale Institute supports the Regenerative Organic Certification which takes organic a step further by ensuring fair payments and living wages for farmers and farm workers, safe working conditions, capacity building and freedom of association.

*Learn more: In 2019, Vice President Kamala Harris introduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, which would mandate overtime for farm workers and end a handful of additional minimum-wage and overtime exemptions. President Joe Biden endorsed the policy during his campaign.

Key Proposal 4:

Re-invest in land grant universities’ agricultural research.

  • In Their Words: “President Biden will bolster funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Our farmers need new technologies to compete in world markets while protecting our soil and water.”
  • What This Means For Regenerative Ag: The Farm Bill is not up for renewal just yet, but we may see the USDA reevaluate the distribution of funds and farm subsidies down the road. Consistent, regionalized research is crucial to ensuring a healthy food system that can be sustained for decades—that’s why Rodale Institute has invested in Regional Resource Centers in three of America’s agricultural hotspots. 

How Can I Make an Impact?

Trying to repair our agricultural system can feel like a daunting and nearly impossible task, but there are small ways to make a big difference. By reaching out to your local government representatives, supporting smaller institutions, putting pressure on brands, buying regenerative, and voicing your opinion on tangible solutions such as regenerative agriculture, you have the power to make immediate impact!

*Take Action: Feel free to copy-and-paste from our Letter To Your Policymaker Template to support regenerative agriculture. Use Rodale Institute’s social media toolkit to tag your favorite brands and ask what they’re doing to implement regenerative practices in their supply chain. Include the hashtag #SoilCarbon Solution!

Positive, lasting change requires a systems-thinking approach with equitable solutions. The implementation of climate-smart agricultural practices under the new Presidential administration offer promise for changing our food system for the better.

For more updates on our research and programming, follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

10 thoughts on “What Biden’s Climate Plan Means For Regenerative Ag

  1. Don’t be fooled that this is governmental benevolence or devout reverence for the earth. It’s all funded by tax payers dollars. Can you afford it? Most of us organic farmers are doing this stuff anyway, especially grass-based livestock farmers like me. We just need to continue to enlarge our numbers. It is rare that throwing tax payer dollars at politically expedient programs reaps the stated noble goals. However, it does recruit some voters. Bah, humbug.

  2. “Our research has shown that organic farming is 3-6x more profitable than conventional—holding a power to revitalize communities and empower farmers.” I am glad for organic growers that their businesses are profitable. And that is good. But, a huge number of consumers cannot afford the higher price of organic products even though they would prefer them.
    My question is, how will this work for the people who do depend upon ‘cheap’ food if even more growers move into the regenerative/organic sector?
    I certainly want to see and support movement towards regenerative/organic, but I just don’t know yet how it will impact the lowest economic sector of society.

    1. It is my hope that since regenerative ag is actually cheaper to implement on a farm, and crops are at least as productive as big ag, often better, then RA should be able to undercut Big Ag… wouldn’t that be a fine turn off events!

    2. Hi Jackie – great question, and well asked as well. So the short answer is yes! But it requires certain systemic changes. And also there are nuances to small vs large farmers and developed vs developing country farms. In short, small farmers (which is what the vast majority are) in developing countries have in recent decades grown monocultures, with lots of tilling which has destroyed their soils. Many times when they move towards systems of diversity and apply farm-made cheap biostimulants and bioferments they get phenomenal results with double profits, and either the same or sometimes higher yields. Also their overall farm bio-productivity goes significantly up (because they’re growing so many crops) and the diversity of their own diets also goes up which is wonderful from a public health and intelligence point of view (we are living in a world of the great nutrient collapse, where cheap food and non-diverse diets have enormous implications for people’s health and brain development etc). An example of this small farmer in developing country system is the Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) farming system the government of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is implementing with a host of organizations such as the UNEP and FAO. Here’s a great UNEP short video on ZBNF:

      A US example of small scale extremely bioproductive and diverse management is Singing Frog Farms that gets 4-8 diverse veegtable/herb crops per year in each row, and they’ve rapidly built soil organic matter/carbon and are extremely profitable.

      Now lets get to large scale farmers in more developed countries. So here there are some shining lights such as Rick Clarke, Levi Lyle, Gabe Brown who are not using any chemicals and are way more profitable farmers doing a no-till system growing cash crops like corn and soy along with diverse cover crops (and in Brown’s case incorporating animal grazing). They have over the year’s eliminated chemicals, and they’re slightly different systems provide excellent starting points for large scale transitions, which may not even need to be fully organic to begin with, but over a few years of smart. locally adapted regenerative management virtually become organic (whether they certify or not). Now let’s also talk about the problems in the US, which are a warped system of government subsidies and government funding for soil conservation often being used for things that have nothing to do with soil health. If the government were to do a mixture of incentives, carbon markets, training for farmers, startup funding for certain equipment upgrades (no-till equipment, cover crop subsidies) and changing the way farm insurance works (which severely disincentives organic and regenerative agriculture), then affordable organic is totally possible. By spending the same amount it currently does, the government can drastically change the agricultural landscape. In fact if the entire system is changed through government efforts, then expensive organic certifications won’t even be needed and for around the same price organic becomes more possible. Now having said that about grain and broadacre farming, people need to eat a lot more vegetables and fruits, which are more expensive than highly processed foods which have become the SAD (Standard American Diet). These are more expensive and also result in a lot of spoilage. Currently the system leads to very long shipping routes and infrastructure, but if prices are to be brought down and accessibility increased then regional production models with seasonal produce will have to be incentivized and invested in.

      One last example comes from Brazil, where large-scale agriculture is being transformed in a system called Syntropic Agroforestry, which drastically builds soil, improves farmer profitability significantly and can get comparable yields for corn, soy etc. (while diversifying the farmer’s crops). This is an exceptional system for tropical and perhaps sub-tropical and Mediterranean-type climates/topographies.

  3. The chain store Aldi’s has many organic options for fruits and vegetables at a cheaper price then supermarkets sell non organic produce. Support chains to continue doing this.

  4. That is the one main challenge right there! In as much as people are willing to patronize in the safety that comes with organic produce, they are always quite expensive on the market for sure and most consumers aren’t willing to purchase them as much.
    Regardless, i feel this goes beyond just producing organic food and aims to draw down on Carbon as well as the footprint of other greenhouses so there is a wider and more long term approach towards these plans. Our ecosystem should always be at the heart of everything we do and America being a top 3 emitter of these anthropogenic GHGs can’t be left out for sure, the consequences of not protecting the climate are much worse than the cost we are going to bare today to protect it.
    There definitely has to be a way to incentivize or subsidize organic production so prices can be affordable to the consumers as possible. Because with the current situation, the proposal is in line with the goals of regenerative ag. but in terms of how it’s going to technically improve the monetary systems of the practice is yet to be seen.

  5. What you are leaving out is that the Gate’s Foundation has bought up most of the farmland in the USA and he will be controlling our food supply. Unfortunately there will be no organic farming done on his land. Everything will be GMO and chemicals. What we all need to do is pray for a miracle.

    1. Praying won’t work here, although it does feel a bit like praying when one does what is right for the land and all of its creatures whose very lives depend on it, including our own. Here in Maine it’s been known for some years that the small organic dairy farmer does better financially than the big corporate guys in terms of what they get from what they put in. In Vermont, where my daughter now lives, those intensely-green rolling hills are kept open by big corporate dairy farms which are now contaminating Lake Champlain with nutrient runoff from fertilizers and manure. In a world where prices reflect actual costs, including costs to our environment and cost to our health, regenerative agriculture and organic food are far less costly in the long run. And the long run is now. Mitigating climate change should be our number one concern and the opportunity that regenerative/organic agriculture offers us in this regard fits so neatly and easily into accomplishing that objective that to not use it may be likened to killing the goose that laid this golden egg.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.