Finian Makepeace – How to get regeneration at the heart of the next US Farm Bill

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A conversation with Finian Makepeace, Co-Founder & Policy Director of Kiss the Ground, producer of Kiss The Ground the movie and one of the leaders of Regenerate America, about the Farm Bill in the US, subsidy schemes, how to have a meaningful impact and more.

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We don’t talk about policy a lot on the podcast because it doesn’t seem to be so investable, but it does seem absolutely fundamental because if a subsidy scheme like the Farm Bill or the Common Agriculture Policy in Europe (CAP) or chemical fossil fuel fertiliser subsidies in many places makes the life of regenerative farmers more difficult, it means it is much more difficult to invest in the space and move it forward.

THE ROLE OF THE FARM BILL IN THE US

The Farm Bill is a very big bill and includes a lot of major things. One of the biggest things it includes is the SNAP program: about 74% of the $856 billion that’s allocated over a 10 year period is allocated for SNAP, which is food assistance program for people in need. Over the last 30 years the Farm Bill has been supportive of industrial, chemical, derived conventional large scale agriculture, and hasn’t been as supportive as it can be to farmers who are actually building soil.

“The Farm Bill is arguably the thing that dictates the US Food and Agricultural Sector more than anything. It’s the largest subsidy. It keeps things going the way they are, or it changes things. If it doesn’t change, things stay the way they are.” – Finian Makepeace

“The Farm Bill is the food bill on more ways than one, but especially for low income folks who need that support. That’s where the funding is coming from. And they do that intentionally. So that, we make sure that that part stays in there in a healthy way. But that’s a part of it. But also things like crop insurance, which the American public pays for 60%, 50% of our crop insurance means when something goes wrong on a farm from climate or drought or whatever, that the farmers can have insurance on their crops and then get a payout for those things. So they don’t have a complete loss”. – Finian Makepeace

“Things aren’t set up for the success right now, in the advancement of regenerative agriculture, or farmers transitioning to regenerative agriculture”. – Finian Makepeace

HOW TO INFLUENCE MASSIVE LEGISLATION

The staffers and the policy makers need to understand why regenerative isn’t just a new hip term to replace sustainability. It is key for farmers and ranchers in their finances and rural communities, their economics, and for the resilience of our land and to what we’re facing with climate change. It is fundamental to allow them to see it and believe that this is an opportunity, and not just something that’s for niche individuals.

“One of the most important things is having farmers there. We’ve been very adamant about this […] I think we’re at about 35 meetings with representatives and their staffers. One of the biggest things is talking with the farmers.” – Finian Makepeace

“So that’s what farmers are generally dealing with, an increased debt of 4% every year. That’s not good. That’s not a healthy system. And so when representatives understand that this is an economic win for farmers, and that it can happen, and there are trainers, people who can educate farmers on this, then we start to make some penetration happen.” – Finian Makepeace

RELATIONSHIPS ARE KEY

Finian argues relationships are hugely important, and the way people are hearing about, experiencing, and understanding what regenerative agriculture has to offer. It probably is the tip of the spear. Kiss the Ground has been going for 10 years. Finian tells us about the job they’ve done on building relationships with leading farmers. A really important point as they help them assess the approach, the who and the how.

“I’ve known Will Harris for a very long time now. So there’s a trust there, and even if we might have even slight disagreements on some things across the board, we know we’re working together to move regenerative ag forward.” – Finian Makepeace

“When the questions come back, when those questions are answered from a farmer, and those examples are given point blank, it does change how people think, and especially this conversation being new. A lot of these staffers are great people on both sides of the aisle. It’s been amazing to sit with these staffers and let them have the aha moments.” – Finian Makepeace

WHERE HE WOULD PUT 1B TO WORK

“I think what I would do is invest in regenerative grazing.” – Finian Makepeace

“You look around… how many ranches are out there, underperforming, they’re doing grass- fed, even. So taking the grass-fed folks and trying to speed up their transition to regenerative grazing, such that they’re having a bunch of wins with all their environmental stuff, which we could track for later, accounting, but more importantly, in the immediate, increasing their biomass, getting their herd size up, so that they can produce more and be more profitable, but then having a way to deliver that meat, aggregating it pockets around the country, so they are able to deliver that meat to those who are wanting it in a bigger way.” – Finian Makepeace

“The regenerative way has so much there, but what it needs is aggregation. And there’s room to do that, but also the education of these ranchers”. – Finian Makepeace

“Helping ranchers towards their regenerative future and aggregating for them that’s what I would do with that money.” – Finian Makepeace

WHY FINIAN IS OPTIMISTIC

Finian speaks of the possibilities when regeneration happens, where entire populations were taken out of poverty, and not because of some handout from the government, or food aid shipped from the United States. That happened because they regenerated their base of their existence, and their water and their food system was replanished.

“I’m optimistic. Are we going to do it? Probably not. But I’m optimistic because once there’s a turning point, I do think that there’s possibilities of incredible things to happen here. When we change our mindset, and our thinking, and what’s possible with our actions, we do have nature’s 500 million years of research and development on our side, at our back, we only have to go down the current with it” – Finian Makepeace

OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED:

Koen and Finian also talked about:

  • Connecting people to regenerative agriculture
  • The biggest problem with technology solving the problems

LINKS:

LINKED INTERVIEWS:

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Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.


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