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Climate change threatens our food supply. Congress must pass a modernized farm bill

We need a fully funded, bipartisan farm bill that helps farmers survive increasingly extreme weather

Maria Medina picks onions at the Carzalia Farm in Columbus, N.M., in August.
Maria Medina picks onions at the Carzalia Farm in Columbus, N.M., in August. (Travis Dove for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

New Mexico’s 2nd District has a rich legacy of agricultural production, including growing the world’s finest green chiles, onions and beef.

But it’s also now abundantly clear that climate change is taking its toll on agricultural production. Floods ravage our arroyos and damage our acequias, landscape-scale wildfires burn down pasture fences and record heat and drought make for unproductive and unpredictable growing seasons. That’s why Congress must deliver a farm bill that tackles climate change and allows producers, both big and small, to build sustainable practices with existing and new technology.

Just last year, the largest wildfires the American southwest has ever seen ravaged crops and rangelands, upended decades-old farms and ranches and their families, and paved the way for record floods and erosion. The southwest has long contended with water scarcity, heat, drought and a changing climate only exacerbates these challenges.

Washington needs a reality check when it comes to putting food on the tables of American families. If we don’t acknowledge the climate reality we face and act quickly to fund and implement climate-smart policies, our agricultural economy and our legacy will suffer. That’s why critical conservation funding and research for new climate-smart technology is imperative, and we must fund it in this year’s farm bill.

Many producers across our district already take advantage of climate-smart programs in the farm bill and other federal programs to reduce soil erosion and increase drought resiliency. These initiatives are incredibly popular — and oversubscribed. These programs are in high demand because producers know they will help keep their farms viable for future generations. For every producer who receives funding from USDA’s conservation programs, two other producers are turned away due to insufficient funds. Inflation Reduction Act funding is designed to fill this critical gap.

Here’s the bad news: Some policymakers on Capitol Hill are refusing to see the facts for what they are. That is why far-right politicians in Congress are seeking to strip conservation funding from the farm bill — funding that’s already been allocated. Moving forward on a highly partisan farm bill does nothing to address the brutal realities of climate change and the sustainability and security of food production in this nation.

We need a fully funded, bipartisan farm bill ASAP.

Every producer who wants to enroll in voluntary conservation programs should have the chance to do so. Congress must use this farm bill to preserve funding earmarked for conservation and dramatically expand successful initiatives such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. Our goal should be making sustainable practices the status quo for those folks who choose to produce our food and voluntarily enroll in these vital programs.

New Mexico is home to an incredibly diverse group of farmers and ranchers who produce chiles, pecans, beef and dairy products, grapes, hay, corn and more. I hear directly from them often, along with forest managers, agricultural researchers and other professionals who work to improve our forests, rangelands and grasslands. They are worried about our next growing season — and the next generation.

I recently met with Agri-Cultura Cooperative Network, a network of more than 70 farmers and ranchers using sustainable practices to operate the largest USDA food hub in New Mexico. A wide-ranging group, they are dedicated to their craft and to safeguarding the future of agriculture in our state. Without resources and technical expertise from the South Valley Climate Hub — funded in part by the farm bill — the work of these farmers would be difficult, if not impossible. 

In fact, 130 researchers and academics from institutions across the country recently sent a letter to congressional leadership urging support of USDA’s Climate Hubs. I was also delighted and proud that my alma mater, New Mexico State University, sent a similar letter, too. This unique research opportunity brings government, universities, and industry R&D together to gather data and develop tools to support producers.

Getting the farm bill across the finish line without battling partisan politics will be a tough legislative challenge. Still, those of us in Congress should take inspiration from the New Mexico farmers and ranchers who have produced foods against tough odds for centuries. They don’t complain. They get to work and continue to put food on our tables using the best information at their disposal.

It’s our job to ensure food producers can do their job well into the future — and modernize the sustainable practices they’ve already pioneered. If we get this right, we can make a dent in climate change, preserve small businesses, extend the legacy of agriculture in our communities, and most importantly, listen to the folks who elected us.

Congressman Gabe Vasquez is a first-generation Mexican American, outdoorsman and conservationist representing New Mexico’s 2nd District. He is a Democrat.

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