Resources for climate-smart agriculture


Midwest farmers need more options to be economically viable and resilient in a changing climate. Agroforestry is a good option for farmers and communities for many reasons. Trees improve water and soil quality, increase biodiversity, and grow healthy, profitable food. Plus, tree-based, perennial agriculture absorbs more greenhouse gases than it produces, making it a top climate solution for the US if adopted widely. Our Policy Team helps decision makers identify and remedy barriers within federal policy that disincentive perennial crop production and agroforestry adoption.

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What will it take to overcome the power of trillions of dollars of sunk costs in the current structure of agriculture? In the closing keynote of the 2022 Perennial Farm Gathering in December, Dr. Ricardo Salvador addressed this question and more. Listen along as Dr. Salvador offers a helpful roadmap for navigating the coming Farm Bill.

Policy Facts

Historically, US conservation programs undervalue the ecological benefits that perennial systems offer. Perennial farmers want a level field and a safety net like annual crop farmers receive. Some key facts to consider:

  • The USDA’s largest working lands program, EQIP, provided almost $1.4 billion in financial assistance to farm operations for conservation practices in FY2018, but less than .05% of that amount went to two of the most important perennial production practices, silvopasture and alley cropping. Other agroforestry practices receive even less investment.

  • Federal policy currently incentivizes annual crops over perennial crops, leaving perennial farmers with fewer supports. Crop insurance is meant to be available for over 100 crops. However in 2020, 94% of payments went towards only 6 commodities. 

  • The groundwork is laid for broader uptake of agroforestry. While U.S. area in agroforestry systems is modest today, 25-50% of national cropland and 10-28% of national grazing land are considered suitable for agroforestry.

Source: Scott, Toensmeier, Iutzi, et al.  Policy Pathways for Perennial Agriculture, 2022


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“We have an extraordinary opportunity with the farm bill reauthorization to say to the farming community: It’s not just get big, it’s diversify. It’s create multiple profit centers in your farming operation.”

– US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 2023 Ag Outlook Forum