A collage of Washington DC Tidal basin, line drawing of Capitol Hill, and postcard image of RIPE's Trey Cooke and Reece Langley. This is the cover image for RIPE's blog "Boots in the Dirt: RIPE On the Ground in DC."

Boots in the Dirt: RIPE On the Ground in DC Spring 2024

Bipartisan conversations to advance Farm Bill and RIPE’s mission

Welcome to RIPE’s new blog series “Boots in the Dirt” – a recurring collection of stories and details about our on-the-ground work engaging with producers, policymakers, and other people of interest in the regenerative agriculture space. As we look toward the summer, we have several in-person meetings and events planned. Simultaneously, policymakers are actively working to develop an updated Farm Bill as the upcoming presidential election draws ever nearer. Given this whirlwind of anticipation, progress, and opportunity,  we figure there’s no better time or place to share updates with you about the work we are doing to improve agricultural policy that will benefit producers all over the country with operations of all sizes. For additional information and updates from RIPE conveniently delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our monthly email newsletter The Conservation Chronicle over on our Subscribe page.

For this installment of Boots in the Dirt, we’re recapping our recent trip to Washington, DC earlier this spring. In an effort to better engage with producers so we can translate their needs into priorities for policymakers, this is just the beginning of a year littered with similar events. Part of RIPE’s work includes advancing ag policy and part of it includes listening to the stories of producers to ensure said policy is truly comprehensive and beneficial – this trip allowed us to do both!

As April turned to May, our Executive Director Trey Cooke was on-the-ground in our nation’s capital for a week full of conversations with policymakers and with RIPE members alike. RIPE’s work is driven by the wants and needs of producers first and foremost, and these conversations are crucial to ensure our work is timely, relevant and equitable. Our priorities are informed by several working coalitions of farmers, ranchers, producer groups and commodity groups nationwide (read more about our IDEA Committee, Steering Committee and Farmer Advisory Network). During this visit to Washington DC, Cooke had the fortune of meeting with some members of the RIPE Steering Committee, members of the House and Senate representing both major political parties, and prospective members of the RIPE coalition.

The action-packed week started with a meeting with Rod Snyder, Senior Advisor for Agriculture at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and former President of Field to Market. RIPE discussed the interests of its producer-led coalition to receive fair compensation for voluntary conservation efforts. These conservation efforts are justified and supported by the stacked ecosystem service values that are provided to the public. This conversation between RIPE and Snyder included RIPE’s research on stacked environmental benefits, which Snyder felt is a significant piece of work that could further bolster the EPA’s interest in addressing water quality issues associated with agriculture and nonpoint source pollution. Additionally, RIPE’s research could help advance the EPA’s interest in voluntary climate-smart mitigation activities.

What is the stacked ecosystem service value? RIPE proposes paying farmers in alignment with the stacked ecosystem service value of stewardship practices whose minimum is $100 per acre or animal unit. Farmers would be paid not just for their carbon, but also for the water quality, air quality, biodiversity and other ecosystem services they provide. As illustrated in the chart below, the value to the environment and society from one acre that is sustainably farmed is significant.

Important preservation practices identified by RIPE, the USDA and additional researchers can address a number of environmental challenges including climate, water quality and supply, air quality and more. While the EPA indeed has significant regulatory authority, it is also interested in facilitating efforts to address environmental challenges through a voluntary approach, especially in the agricultural sector.

Additionally in the policy space, RIPE met with the Democrat and Republican House Ag Committee Staff and received a briefing on the status of the Farm Bill. Committee staff from both parties indicated that Chairman G.T. Thompson and Ranking Member David Scott were working hard to finalize a bill this summer, and have made significant strides to achieve alignment on some of the key issues. Both parties also detailed notable progress made on the Conservation Title which include several key RIPE Coalition priorities. RIPE’s approach includes bipartisan support for policy that benefits producers of all products with operations of all sizes – read our Principles & Practices to scale voluntary agricultural conservation to learn more.

That same day, the House and Senate majorities released their framework for the Farm Bill. Over the coming weeks, the Committees will be working toward to advance a bill through their respective Committee, with the House Agriculture Committee scheduled to hold a markup on May 23. RIPE rounded out the policy portion of the week with a number of meetings with member offices working on conservation issues in alignment with RIPE Coalition priorities, including:

  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE)
  • Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL)
  • Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR)
  • Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN)

Another noteworthy meeting included conferring with former RIPE Executive Director Aliza Wasserman. Wasserman contributed significantly to building RIPE’s foundations and currently serves as USDA Senior Advisor on Energy for Rural Utilities Service. During this meeting, Wasserman provided a briefing on the current movement to advance renewable energy strategies across rural America within key agricultural regions. This is supported in RIPE’s proposal. Moreover, Cooke met with National Farmers Union staff to discuss conservation priority alignment and provide a briefing on joint efforts of RIPE Steering Committee members Minnesota and North Dakota Farmers Union. Our producer-led steering committee advises on producer engagement, contributes to policy design and makes recommendations on other opportunities that support RIPE’s mission. It is made up of a diverse group of state, regional, and national trade associations and producer groups; the MN Farmers Union and ND Farmers Union represent 2/10 of the committee.

Speaking of RIPE’s Steering Committee, Cooke had the opportunity to meet with Steering Committee member Dr. Loston Rowe, Interim Executive Director of the National Black Growers Council (NBGC).  The NBGC is a collective of multigenerational producers who advocate for the best interests of Black farmers locally, statewide and nationally, and whose mission is to improve the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of Black row crop farmers. Discussions were had about the partnership between the organizations, as well as implementation of the several USDA Climate-Smart Commodity Grants of keen interest to both parties.

Finally, Cooke attended the Ducks Unlimited Capitol Hill banquet and was afforded the chance to connect with many NGO and agricultural industry partners working on conservation initiatives that benefit producers across the country. Throughout the evening, Cooke conversed with Government Affairs staff of Corteva Agriscience, Agricultural Retailers Association, USA Rice Federation, Pheasants Forever, the Nature Conservancy, and Ducks Unlimited about Farm Bill priority alignment. Cooke also participated in a  Congressional Reception hosted by the USA Rice Federation. As mentioned above, conversations like these are critical in informing RIPE’s priorities and ensuring our mission is comprehensive and suitable for all producers.

RIPE’s Spring 2024 visit to Washington DC was full of purpose and powerful conversations. As the summer draws near, we look forward to visiting several locations around the country and connecting with current and prospective coalition members with operations of varying size. During these trips, we look forward to hearing the stories of these operations and the hardworking people and history behind them.

RIPE’s mission reflects our desire to unify both sides of the political aisle and pass legislation that is relevant and equitable for operations of all sizes. We believe that farmers and ranchers who voluntarily implement conservation practices in their operations should be fairly compensated based on the public benefit of the services provided by such practices. The RIPE Proposal clearly identifies the environmental benefits and carbon value provided by various conservation practices. By outlining these various practices, we can justify equitable payments, particularly when a producer implements several of them simultaneously. By having conversations with producers and policymakers akin to those had on this DC visit, we can justify the RIPE proposal and its economical benefits for producers as well as its environmental benefits for the planet.

 We’d love to connect with you and hear your story too. Contact us via email or by engaging with us on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter/X). Be sure to subscribe to The Conservation Chronicle to stay up-to-speed on RIPE’s work, current affairs, regenerative agriculture developments and more.