Trailer: The Biggest Little Farm

August 25, 2019

My son is an organic farmer, and I watched this with him the other day.
First, it’s excellent.

My son loves the film, but points out that the farm profiled obviously found a very wealthy backer to underwrite a farm/film project, which seems to have been pretty well executed.
For most young farmers, if they do not inherit land and equipment, the barriers to entry are daunting.
Some are finding success by focusing on intensively farming small tracts for high value organic greens and other crops that are finding a market in the “Farm to Table” local food movement.

In any case, a key component of any mitigation of climate change will involve intensive agriculture and rebuilding soil.

Jay Inslee left the Presidential race this week, prematurely I think, but his proposals for rural development to mitigate climate change could be a template for other candidates.

Jay Inslee: Growing Rural Prosperity:

1)     Investing in Agricultural Innovations to Defeat Climate Change
As president, Jay Inslee will launch a new Carbon Farming initiative to reward farmers for the environmental services they provide by removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere to build healthier soils, and by capturing methane. Inslee will triple funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to $3 billion annually, reform crop insurance, and expand other U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to promote climate-smart agriculture. He’ll establish a new Advanced Research Projects Agency–Agriculture (ARPA-Ag) and increase funding to Agricultural Extensions Services and land-grant colleges for next-generation agricultural innovations. And he’ll also create new standards — including a Clean & Renewable Fuels Standard (CRFS) — to drive the deployment of advanced, low-carbon biofuels, and sustainable bio-based products.
2)    Keeping Farmers Farming 
The Inslee Administration will reverse Donald Trump’s chaotic trade policies and will take aggressive anti-trust action – through existing and expanded authorities at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) – against agribusinesses that are undermining small and family farms. It will reinvest in federal efforts like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Economic Research Service (ERS), and National Drought Resilience Partnership that are critical for America’s agriculture and food systems. It will take executive action and fight for legislation to protect the rights and health of farm workers. And it will support new, diverse, women, and young farmers.

3)    Investing in Rural Prosperity & Advancing Equity
Inslee will create a Next-Generation Rural Electrification initiative to revitalize rural economies through bottom-up strategies for renewable energy, efficiency, and transmission deployment, and using federal financing to retire and replace coal power plants polluting rural communities. Inslee will launch massive new investments in rural broadband connectivity, and, for the first time, require Big Tech companies to pay into the Universal Service Fund. The Inslee administration will fund rural infrastructure for drought-resilient water resources and floodplain protections – as Gov. Inslee has done in the Yakima and Chehalis river basins in Washington state. And it will use new and existing federal programs to support rural manufacturing and economic diversification, as well as healthcare and housing access and affordability.
4)    Improving Forest Health and Protecting America’s Public Lands
The Inslee Administration will incentivize and reward landowners for forest-based carbon removal, and launch a major reinvestment in the U.S. Forest Service to repair and sustain the health of federal forest lands. It will restore and enhance protections for America’s public lands, including fully and permanently funding the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), addressing the $12 billion backlog of maintenance projects on federal lands, and providing Americans with free access to national parks. It will fight to fulfill U.S. government treaty obligations to Tribal nations, and ensure new protections and restoration of Tribal lands. And it will put Americans to work in new service, training and employment opportunities in a new Climate Conservation Corps, based on the Clean Energy Service Corps that Inslee first helped create in 2009.

Carbon Farming: Paying farmers for environmental services
To build economic security for agricultural producers, and to empower them as leaders in the fight against climate change, the Inslee administration will treat sequestered carbon as a new and profitable crop, and reward farmers who choose to support photosynthetic soil carbon capture and storage, or “carbon farming.” Carbon farming is the practice of growing crops while pulling carbon from the atmosphere back in the ground – providing “negative emissions.” Inslee’s plan calls for paying directly for and establishing markets that reward this practice, offering an added revenue stream for large and small farms alike. It’s estimated that at least 50% of the world’s soil carbon has been released as a result of land use change and monocropping. We know that carbon-rich soil helps defeat climate change, alongside other environmental and agricultural benefits. It boosts production and yields and helps create a sponge in the soil that allows for better absorption and water retention in the face of both flooding and droughts. One recent soil health project study by the National Association of Conservation Districts showed how a no-till/cover crop system could increase yields by $110 per acre.
The Inslee administration will build upon and expand existing programs and initiatives throughout the country that fairly compensate farmers for advanced soil and farming conservation practices and the ecosystem services they provide. These strategies include conservation tillage, diverse cover crops, and crop and grazing rotations — strategies that have been proven to increase soil-carbon from 1-2% to 5-8% over 5-10 years, allowing for the drawdown of as much as 25-60 tons of carbon emissions per acre. It further includes the preservation of marginal cropland as grass- and forest-lands, and action on other agricultural emissions – notably nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 250 times more potent than carbon, which accounts for more than 50% of U.S. cropland greenhouse gas emissions. It will also promote policies that reduce the use of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, and protect pollinators – which are crucial to sustaining and rebuilding healthy soils and ecosystems.
The Inslee administration will take a holistic approach to environmental services, including water quality management throughout river basins, and appropriate payments for on-farm nutrient and waste management. The Inslee administration will restore data and science within the USDA to arm farmers with baseline data on life-cycle carbon impacts and environmental impacts from different crops and cropping techniques, as well as best-practices, and access to necessary technologies.
Carbon farming can help American farmers at the forefront of not only smart and sustainable agricultural business models, but of climate smart land-use that can lead the global economy toward an economically and environmentally prosperous future. The Inslee Administration will pursue a number of initiatives to support carbon removal and ecosystem services:
Paying farmers for carbon farming, with performance-based payments for on-farm carbon removal. This starts with developing metrics to certify the increase in soil carbon resulting from different carbon farming practices, by swiftly expanding, accelerating, and implementing Soil Health Demonstration Projects authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, and utilizing data from successful initiatives like the California Low-Carbon Fuel Standard and the USDA COMET-Farm program. Then by determining the appropriate conservation practices and their climate benefit-value, and establishing payment systems and programs that reward producers who are storing carbon in their landscapes. This may include tapping into existing USDA programs such as the Commodity Credit Corporation and those of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and in the establishment of a permanent, sustained source of revenue for America’s farmers growing climate solutions.
Ensuring a climate-smart crop insurance program, which currently backs more than 80% of all major U.S. field crops, at a price tag of $9 billion annually, but does not account for the largest risk to America’s working lands: climate change. Key reforms are needed to protect farms, taxpayers, and the climate. Among them, the USDA Risk Management Agency, which runs the crop insurance program, will form new partnerships with regional USDA climate hubs, state universities, and land-grant colleges to implement reforms to account for climate risk in its actuarial tables, thereby incentivizing soil health and other conservation practices and guarding America’s farmers and its food supplies against future floods, drought, and extreme weather events. Additionally, for those producers who are implementing conservation practices on their land, the cost of crop insurance will be discounted, because their risk is lower. By accurately accounting for climate change in the crop insurance programs and rewarding producers who are working to decrease their risk through building soil health and storing more carbon in the land, taxpayers will save money over the long term as more producers are incentivized to harness the power of their land as a natural defense system against the worst impacts of climate change.
Tripling funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), to $3 billion per year, and building upon the 2018 Farm Bill which for the first time provided a general directive for the CSP to focus on soil health, and authorized soil planning and climate mitigation as activities eligible for payments from the program. The 2018 Farm Bill also increased incentives for crop rotation, cover cropping, and rotational grazing – all crucial strategies for soil health, carbon removal, and environmental conservation. Unfortunately, both the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills cut funding for the CSP, which must be restored and then significantly increased.
Expanding other successful USDA conservation programs, like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and increasing their focus on climate-smart agricultural and land-use practices. In addition to the power of working landscapes to fight climate change by acting as a carbon sink, lands have many other ecological benefits, including building habitat for critical wildlife, providing natural water filtration, and physically buffering against extreme weather events. The CRP provides investment in farm conservation, including in preservation of marginal agricultural land as forests and habitat, and it should extend payments to cover preservation of marginal pasture land and the deployment of forested buffers separating livestock and streams, as well as ensure full consideration of climate benefits in providing adequate payments to farmers. The 2018 Farm Bill empowered the EQIP to invest in soil health testing and demonstration projects. And the RCPP is an extremely successful Obama-era Farm Bill innovation for which Washington state is a poster-child; agriculture-conservation partnerships in the Evergreen state have received nearly $50 million from the program for climate-smart water and fish habitat-restoration in the Yakima and Columbia River and Puget Sound basins; farmland conservation in the Puyallup watershed; private land forest stewardship in Southwest Washington, and more, since 2014.
Extending USDA conservation compliance measures to cover soil health improvements. Governor Inslee will expand FSA and NRCS programs that work to prevent soil erosion and promote wetland protection, to ensure that they also support on-farm improvements for soil health and water quality in farms’ conservation plans. Agricultural producers currently adhere to certain conservation compliance measures as part of programs that invest over $20 billion annually into America’s working lands. This program change will further promote carbon sequestration and healthy soils. 
Launching a targeted new Nitrous Oxide Management Strategy for nutrient management, starting with at least 5 million new acres of cropland each year, and increasing over time. To accomplish this the NRCS will provide technical assistance to expand implementation of its Conservation Practice Standards for Nutrient Management, in strategies that reduce of chemical fertilizers, and in the widespread adoption of the “4Rs” for nitrogen utilization — right source, right rate, right time, and right place. This program will work to directly combat the dangerous and harmful algal blooms that are appearing with increasing frequency and severity along the Gulf coast and can be traced back to increased levels of agricultural runoff, specifically nitrous oxide, as more fertilizers flow from farms downstream through America’s waterways. This program will be accompanied by voluntary technical assistance and incentives for on-farm fertility management including on-farm compost production and associated equipment. 
Building public-private waste management partnerships for better soil. One application of compost can help stimulate organic soil carbon sequestration for over 100 years. The EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management program already fosters partnership opportunities to reduce food waste in corporate supply chains as well as in federal agency operations. The Inslee administration’s EPA Climate Protection Partnerships Division will support the development of public-private partnerships to turn organic food waste into healthy soil amendments. Partnerships such as the Marin Carbon Project’s compost collaborative can help avoid methane emissions associated with food waste in landfills, and also promote carbon sequestration in agricultural and rangeland soils. These initiatives will ensure necessary compost pre-treatment to prevent spread of plant pests that threaten agricultural produce, particularly for economically and regionally-important crops.
Expanding the federal “sodsaver” policy to preserve grasslands nation-wide. This provision is currently implemented in the Northern Plains states to prohibit federal investment in carbon-intensive conversion of native grasslands into cropland. In addition to providing a climate benefit, this provision also provides a direct taxpayer benefit, in that it avoids public subsidy for agricultural production on marginal land. Governor Inslee will bring this successful federal policy tool nation-wide.
Expanding staff capacity at the NRCS by nearly 3 times, from 12,000 to over 30,000, to enhance on-the-ground support farmers and rural communities chart their own path for sustainable livelihoods and climate solutions. The NRCS is a successful trusted federal program that partners with farmers and conservation districts in nearly every county in America; it’s only limitation has been staff capacity. NRCS will work with farmers and rural communities to develop on-farm climate solutions and build local, bottom-up strategies and partnerships – including through Energy Districts proposed in Inslee’s Evergreen Economy plan – for rural prosperity in America’s clean energy economy.


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5 Responses to “Trailer: The Biggest Little Farm”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Kudos and good luck to your son, Peter. I’m buying organic and local wherever I can. Better taste and quality anyway.

  2. jimbills Says:

    Best wishes to your son. It’s a noble effort – likely to see little monetary profit but hopefully rewarding in ways more valuable than money. He’s going to have to work, work, work and wear many hats besides actually farming. If he has the creativity gene, that will help!

  3. Kevin Warren Says:

    Peter,
    I saw this movie recently and had the same thought about how well capitalized they must have been. I’d love to see them report the economics of it to know how long it took them to become profitable. That would be important for knowing if it’s presently feasible for someone to take out a large loan to do what they did.

    Hunter Lovins did a great plenary to the IEPEC conference in Denver last week. She mostly spoke about energy but also addressed Ag. In addition to this movie, which she liked, she suggested Gabe Brown’s “Keys to Building a Healthy Soil” and “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts”

    • greenman3610 Says:

      there are young farmers breaking in, but you don’t hear too many stories about kids with
      the money to buy hundreds of acres and the equipment needed to work it.
      We need a rethink of what the govt is incentivizing in our ag programs.

  4. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    One of the movie reviewers thought it looked more like an infomercial than a documentary, in that real life would have wiped them out without outside support.


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