By Jameson Spivack
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the biggest obstacles in the way of achieving healthier eating in the United States are the current farming laws. In its latest report, “Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future,” UCS recommends reforming policies that make it more difficult for farmers to grow healthy crops like fruits and vegetables.
A new UCS report urges more financial incentives for farmers to grow healthy fruits and vegetables. (Image credit: UCS)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s new dietary guideline, “MyPlate,” states that 50 percent of our diets should be comprised of fruits and vegetables. But Americans don’t consume enough of either—instead, American consumers eat large amounts of refined grains, sugars, meat, and fat. In fact, according to the UCS report, only two percent of U.S. farmland is used to grow fruits and vegetables.
The major reason for this, says the UCS, is because of farm policy. Currently, farmers are financially discouraged from planting healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and instead opt for subsidized commodity crops like corn and soybeans. These crops mostly end up as inputs for meat production, processed foods, and non-food products. In addition, laws prevent subsidized commodity crop farmers from planting fruits and vegetables, and these laws are supported by large fruit and vegetable producers who wish to keep prices high.
The USDA typically only offers crop insurance to farmers who grow commodity crops. Since there is limited data on “healthy food” crops, it is harder to develop an insurance policy. While there is a pilot program—“whole-farm-revenue insurance,” which offers insurance to farmers growing fruits and vegetables—it is expensive and limited to certain geographical areas.
Difficult access to insurance, says the UCS, discourages farmers from growing healthy crops. Farming is a risky business, with unpredictable weather and fluctuating market prices, and not having crop insurance during a poor season can devastate a farmer’s livelihood. Not having insurance also makes it more difficult to receive credit, since investors are less likely to invest in a farm that isn’t protected by insurance. This makes it substantially more difficult for farmers who grow fruits and vegetables to survive, discouraging their production in the first place.
There are three policy changes the UCS recommends for encouraging more farmers to grow healthy crops. First, they suggest promoting planting flexibility and removing barriers in subsidy programs that prevent farmers from planting fruits and vegetables. Second, they urge Congress and the USDA to create an effective federal healthy-food crop insurance policy that is available to farmers all across the country. Finally, they recommend expanding micro-lending programs to encourage small-scale, local farming.
If we improve insurance and credit accessibility for healthy-food farmers, says the UCS, it is possible to encourage farmers to grow fruits and vegetables. This will in turn increase the availability of healthy food options for consumers.
What other reforms will help encourage farmers to plant fruits and vegetables? Comment below!
Jameson Spivack is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.