How Elizabeth Warren plans to reboot the farm economy


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping overhaul of farm policy, building on her goal of leveling the playing field between farmers and large agribusinesses.

Warren's plan, one of the most liberal rolled out by 2020 Democrats so far, is aimed at breaking up big corporations, paying farmers fair prices, reducing overproduction and encouraging more environmental conservation.

"By making this shift, we can raise farm incomes and reduce taxpayer expenditures," the platform says. "We can break the stranglehold that giant agribusinesses have over our farm economy, and expand economic opportunities for small- and medium-sized farmers, family farmers, women farmers, and farmers of color."

The senator released her plan during another swing through Iowa, a visit that will end at the state fair in Des Moines on Saturday.

What would it do?

Warren's call to break up major companies in the pesticide, seed and meatpacking sectors and strengthen antitrust enforcement has been the cornerstone of her strategy to boost the farm economy. The senator argues that a wave of consolidation is squeezing farmers, and her plan builds on this trust-busting agenda, which she touched on earlier this year.

The senator also wants to shift away from farm subsidies that pay farmers when commodity prices are low. Instead, she is proposing a new supply management program that guarantees prices at farmers' cost of production, while relying on the government to store any surpluses to stabilize the market. These policies tend to attract opposition for not being based on the free market.

Warren, who endorses the Green New Deal's goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2030, calls for a "full out effort" to decarbonize agriculture. She would pour $15 billion each year into a USDA program that pays farmers to adopt conservation practices.

In order to create more opportunities for small, beginning and minority farmers, Warren proposed expanding access to credit, as well as creating a $1 billion "Farm to People" program so federally funded institutions like military bases and hospitals can source food from local producers.

The senator did not detail how she would pay for these initiatives, however.

The senator argues that her plan to restructure farm subsidies would save taxpayers billions of dollars because it is more efficient. A Warren spokesperson told POLITICO that the investments in conservation, disadvantaged farmers and other initiatives would be paid for by her proposal to change tax laws that encourage companies to merge and by placing new taxes on monopolies.

How does the plan stack up?

Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are the most aligned when it comes to their plans for the farm economy. They are the only two candidates who have gone so far as to call for splitting up major agribusinesses. Other 2020 contenders - including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland and former Vice President Joe Biden - are instead focused on stronger antitrust enforcement.

When it comes to climate action, Warren is among several candidates who endorse paying farmers to adopt conservation practices, including Sanders and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas. Biden has set the most ambitious goals, calling for American agriculture to be the first in the world to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and allowing farmers to participate in new carbon markets.

Warren's proposal does not touch on trade policy and its impact on farmers.

Alex Thompson contributed to this report.


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