Our conventional agriculture system in the United States is not sustainable.

Farmland covers about 75% of Illinois, which ranks third nationally in the export of agricultural commodities (https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/agr/About/Pages/Facts-About-Illinois-Agriculture.aspx).  Now is the time to build a resilient agricultural system that will save lives, species, and health care dollars while providing healthy jobs and carbon sequestration. Now is the time for the appointment of a talented administrator who will bring the science of 21st-century agriculture to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) leadership post under the Biden administration.

Farmers across the country are returning to regenerative farming as a system that can improve their profitability and produce healthy foods while reversing the environmental degradation of factory farms, the contamination of our waterways with pesticides and fertilizers, the threat to species from GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and most importantly, degradation of the soil all life depends upon. Regenerative soil management has the ability to sequester up to 2.5 metric tons of CO2 per acre annually (USDA-NRCS), and sequester enough carbon to make the agricultural sector climate-neutral (EPA GHG Emission Inventory).

These farmers know that food is both a public health and an environmental justice issue. 

The U.S. government is projected to make direct payments of $47 billion to farmers in 2020. Federal aid represents approximately 42% of net farm income and unfortunately creates financial incentives for farmers to act against their own and the planet’s long-term interests.

Leading-edge farmers willing to take a chance find they can reduce risk and increase profits by foregoing these payouts while adding diversity to their crop systems, use practices like cover crops and integrating livestock with crops, and lowering their need for costly and environmentally damaging chemicals. Our policies should enable everyone to take advantage of these resilient practices.

This is why Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA) Climate Group, along with our co-signers, endorses for Secretary of Agriculture three qualified people who understand the complexities of both conventional and regenerative farming practices and who have the ability to transform U.S. agriculture from the former to the latter: Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Media reports indicate former Senator Heidi Heitkamp is a front-runner for President-Elect Biden to pick for this cabinet post. However, many groups have pointed out her tight alliance with her state’s massive oil and coal interests and her consistent opposition to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. 

Lobbyists for corporate agricultural interests – from agribusiness conglomerates like Bayer and Archer Daniels Midland, to trade groups like the Fertilizer Institute, as well as sugar interests and big refiners – are sure to swarm the Hill to influence this decision.

The Biden Administration must resist such pressure and embrace the opportunity to ensure a multitude of corrective benefits for our people and planet. This is why we believe that Rep. Pingree, Rep. Fudge, and Sen. Booker should be at the top of the list to lead the USDA.

We urge Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, as a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, to use his influence to ensure Illinois farmers have the best leadership for transformational regenerative farming practices. 

— M. Catherine Buntin, Co-Chair, Chicago Area Peace Action Climate Group and Chuck Wasserburg, Executive Committee, Citizens’ Greener Evanston

Endorsing Organizations: Chicago Area Peace Action; Citizens’ Greener Evanston; Sunrise Movement Chicago; 350 Chicago; 350 Kishwaukee; Save Our Illinois Land, SOIL