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New Mexico Senators introduce bill hoping to help small farmers

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(The Center Square) – U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, and Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, recently introduced a bill that they hope will help small farms.

The two joined U.S. Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to introduce the Small Farm Conservation Act. They hope it will allow small farms to access federal conservation programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

“Programs like EQIP have been critical in supporting farmers and conservation efforts in New Mexico. Despite these strides, larger farms have been prioritized while small farmers have fallen through the cracks. In New Mexico, 52% of farms are less than 50 acres, making them less likely to qualify for the current EQIP,” Luján said in a press release. “That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Small Farm Conservation Act to support small farmers and ranchers and help them access financial and technical assistance.”

Heinrich said the bill will help improve soil health, which he said has been negatively impacted by climate change.

“As our climate crisis worsens, we should be making it easier — not harder — for those who feed our nation to access assistance needed to improve soil health and conserve natural resources on their land,” Heinrich said in the release. “This legislation would unlock new financial resources to provide much-needed support for small farmers in New Mexico and across the country, while growing our economy and protecting our environment. The Small Farm Conservation Act works hand in glove with my efforts in the annual Agriculture Appropriations bill to expand access to conservation programs for small farmers and producers, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get these important polices included in the upcoming Farm Bill.”

The USDA’s EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that aims to let farmers and ranchers cost share to obtain technical assistance for implementing conservation practices on “working agricultural lands,” according to the release.

“Small farms and ranches often find it difficult to navigate federal conservation programs and, because payment rates are based on acreage, they face meaningful pay discrepancies compared to larger agricultural operations,” the release said. “Small farmers who wish to undertake soil health practices have to dedicate the same time and effort as larger farms to access EQIP while only receiving a fraction of the benefit.”

The Senators from New Mexico want the legislation to be included in this year’s Farm Bill, the USDA agriculture and nutrition program that receives an updated every five years.

“New Mexico’s farmers have always faced some of the most challenging climate and economic conditions in the country, and in the face of drought and climate change, these difficulties have only intensified,” Alicia Thompson, National Young Farmers Coalition New Mexico Organizer, said in the release. “The Small Farm Conservation Act is a necessary step to support small producers from across our state who are already addressing climate change through farming, including Indigenous practices that are in harmony with our state’s harsh climate. With this marker bill, we are championing these land stewards whose steadfast work has not gone unnoticed. Their efforts to feed their communities are worthy and their commitments to addressing climate change head-on are not only celebrated, but supported by federal programs with the passage of this critical piece of legislation.”

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