Local farmers advocate for conservation incentives

Photo by Emily Hawk/Pella ChronicleCoyote Run Farm co-owner Matt Russell gives Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris a tour of the farm.

Farmers are suffering the most debt since the farm crisis of the 1980s, and Coyote Run Farm co-owner Matt Russell is advocating for a solution with the help of local farmers.

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris visited the farm, which rests on the cusp of Marion County. After giving Harris a tour of the farm’s garlic harvest, open fields and masterly garden, Russell emphasized this: farmers must be paid for environmental services.

Russell, along with local farmers Aaron Lehman and Justin Jordan, discussed trade issues, conservation programs and the rejuvenation of rural America with the California senator.

According to Lehman, farmers are putting off investments on their farms due to economic hardship, stating that farm income has dropped 50 percent over the past five years. President Trump’s trade war with China, increased consolidation in the agricultural industry and decreased ethanol production due to lack of renewable fuel standards have contributed to the decrease in farm income.

“We need to put incentives in place for conservation so that farmers can use practices that are good for soil health, conservation, soil erosion and climate mitigation,” said Lehman. “All of those things can work together. Making investments in those things with farmers is important.”

Jordan, a fifth generation farmer, saw issues with the conventional way of farming he was taught growing up. Conventional farming causes increased greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and water pollution. Because of this, Jordan tries to create a balanced formula of conservation and agricultural production.

Russell explained to Harris that American taxpayers have invested in environmental programs that have helped build and sustain the farm. Conservation incentives would not only improve soil and water quality, but would rejuvenate rural communities with additional job opportunities.

“There are so many opportunities for rural America, but somebody has to lead them in their vision,” said Russell. “They have to unleash the power for us to innovate and reward us when we’re successful. There’s so much opportunity, but when we’re in the politics that we’re in, progress is stagnant.”

Russell says he is impressed with Harris’ knowledge and attention to the struggles of rural farmers. However, Russell is also having conversations with Republicans, emphasizing that conservation incentives are not a partisan issue.

“We’ve got to create the economics that they are innovating on climate solutions,” said Russell. “Farmers will do it, they’re telling us they’ll do it. We know that when you create those economic incentives, they do it, because that’s how they survive. Paying farmers for climate services is where we’re headed globally.”

Emily Hawk is a staff writer for the Pella Chronicle. Reach her by email at ehawk@pellachronicle.com.