Interview: Mad Ag on Supporting Farmers to Build a More Regenerative Food Future

Cultivating Growth: 3 Agricultural Policy Updates Advancing the Plant-Based Food Business

In the current landscape, both plant-based food companies and agricultural businesses stand to gain substantial benefits from the innovative policy efforts taking place at the Federal and state levels. These policy measures, backed by political support and funding, hold the potential to foster the remarkable growth of the plant-based foods industry in alignment with the surging consumer demand. This presents a promising economic opportunity not only for American farmers but also for enhancing crop diversity and bolstering resilience within our food system.

A number significant political initiatives have recently emerged to bolster agricultural funding and extend support to the plant-based foods sector. By embracing these initiatives, we can construct more robust supply networks, cultivate diverse crops across the United States, and offer economic opportunities to small and mid-size growers from various backgrounds. This collaborative approach paves the way for long-term capacity development, climate resilience, and sustainable practices to meet the needs of a continuously growing and evolving population. With a shared commitment to this cause, we can foster a brighter and more hopeful future for the entire food industry.

1. Congress Introduces the PLANT Act to Boost Plant-Based Food Production Through USDA Programs

On Thursday, July 27th, Congressman Jim McGovern along with co-sponsors Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC-12) and Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN-04) introduced the Peas, Legumes, and Nuts Today (PLANT) Act that would ensure that farmers and companies producing plant-based food are eligible for USDA programs. The bill will expand opportunities for agricultural producers, increase consumer choice in food markets, and enhance American international competitiveness by establishing new programs for food innovation, and for other purposes.

Specifically, the bill will:

  • Increase USDA incentives for farmers producing ingredients in plant-based foods, such as pulses and mushrooms.
  • Update USDA’s Market Access Program to encourage exports of plant-based foods.
  • Clarify that existing USDA loan programs include the expansion or building of plant based food processing facilities.
  • Update Rural Development initiatives to support plant-based food manufacturing in rural communities, including updates to the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Area Program and the RISE program.
  • Create a new plant-based protein research program (within the USDA’s high-priority research and extension initiatives) to improve the functionality and flavor of key plant protein ingredients.
  • Expand the authorization for the Pulse Crop Health Initiative.
  • Update the Value-Added Producer Grant program to support domestic supply chains, including specialty crop growers.
  • Create an Office of Plant-Based Food Options and Innovative Production within USDA, modeled after existing offices, to provide competitive grants to farmers, companies, and researchers, and to help new and beginning farmers.
  • Create a Plant Protein Innovation Initiative to direct technical assistance and grants to businesses, including grants for the development of new products, business development, regional plant-based food production, research, and plant-protein functionality. At least 5 regionally diverse initiatives would be created to support local farmers and rural food processors.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers programs that create opportunities for U.S. producers of food, fiber, and specialty crops. This bill would help ensure that USDA programs support farmers and companies producing plant-based foods. Existing USDA programs can do more to support the production, marketing, and processing of plant-based food products. By ensuring that farmers and companies are eligible for USDA assistance, Congress can ensure that new food manufacturing jobs are being created in our communities, especially our rural communities. We believe that the PLANT Act will have a significant impact on the plant-based food industry, providing crucial support to farmers and companies and securing the future of plant-based foods in the United States.

We would like to invite plant-based foods brands, supplier networks, and aligned partners to sign on as endorsers of the PLANT Act. Endorsers will be listed on materials and may be invited to participate in meetings with Hill staff and others. Please also continue to spread the word within your community.

To add your organization to the sign on, click here. See the full text of the bill here.

2. Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Initiative (RFSI): Advancing Plant-Based Food Industry Growth and Rural Communities

The United States Department of Agriculture is partnering with states to award collectively up to $420 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support infrastructure in the middle-of-the-supply-chain for domestic food and farm businesses and other eligible entities. The purpose of the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure (RFSI) program is to provide more and better markets to small farms and food businesses, to support the development of value-added products for consumers, fair prices, fair wages, and new and safe job opportunities. The goal of the program is to keep profits circulating in rural communities and increase diversity in processing options in terms of business model approaches, geography, and availability to underserved communities.

PBFA has communicated with states directly to inform state agriculture agencies of the opportunities within plant-based food manufacturing and supply that can create pipelines for rural producers and plant-based foods industry. In its letter, PBFA notes the biggest barriers farmers and processors continue to identify are the need to update and retrofit equipment for advanced processing, the divestment in processing infrastructure, and flexible access to capital for equipment to access new markets. The RFSI program can help address this gap.

“The Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program has the potential to significantly increase sourcing and processing from American farmers,” said PBFI Policy Associate Renee Smith Nickelson. “While states decide their respective plans for this program, we believe access to infrastructure can offer a boost for growers and processors to take part in the growth of the plant-based foods industry.” 

To read PBFA’s full comment, see link here.

This program may be particularly of interest to plant-based food brands, processors, and manufacturers seeking infrastructure solutions for mid-supply chain processing needs, or seeking sourcing partnerships. If you are interested in applying for this funding in your state or would like to discuss the opportunity further, please reach out to

3. Advancing Agriculture with Regenerative Cover Crops: The COVER Act 2023

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), U.S. Representatives Sean Casten (D-IL-06), Mike Bost (R-IL-12) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-7), have introduced the Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience Program (COVER) Act of 2023, which will provide a five dollar per acre insurance premium subsidy to farmers who plant cover crops. Planting cover crops is a regenerative practice that prevents erosion, improves soil health and water quality, enhances soil water availability, suppresses weeds, helps control pests and diseases, increases biodiversity, mitigates greenhouse gas emissions and sequesters carbon. The COVER Act does not simply reduce the cost of planting cover crops, it helps set growers on a path to leveraging the benefits of cover crops by reducing purchases of inputs such as synthetic nitrogen and pesticides. Lowering these costs, among the biggest line items in growers’ budgets, leads to increased farm profitability and vitality of rural communities. 

The COVER Act:

  • Creates the Good Steward Cover Crop Program to provide producers a $5 per acre premium subsidy when they enroll in a covered insurance program and plant cover crops for conservation purposes.
  • Reserves $5 million for technical assistance, outreach, and program support to help producers access the Good Steward Cover Crop Program. 
  • Authorizes USDA to evaluate how additional crop insurance premium subsidies can be offered for other soil health practices that reduce risk and comply with the goals of the Federal Crop Insurance Program.

The COVER Act has received endorsements from key organizations and companies working to promote the regeneration of American farming: Practical Farmers of Iowa, Danone, Unilever, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Farmland Trust, National Wildlife Federation, Green Cover Seed, Izaak Walton League of America, Iowa Farmers Union, GO Seed, E2, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Farm Action Fund, and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

PBFA and PBFI support the COVER Act, as it will help growers transition to growing new crops for the plant-based foods industry by mitigating the cost of insuring those crops, and encourages the use of cover crops as part of an integrated, regenerative crop rotation program. While a small first step, similar state-funded programs have shown that even a modest subsidy of $5/acre entices new farmers to plant cover crops. Hopefully, it is the first step toward fully incorporating conservation as a risk-reducing strategy within the Federal crop insurance program. When farmers can regeneratively grow crops securely, this reflects positively across the food supply chain, including sourcing relationships with suppliers, manufacturers, and brands. PBFI empowers plant based food companies to source domestically and sustainably, and funding programs that support farmers in supplying regeneratively grown crops and ingredients can create strong, long-lasting sourcing partnerships. If you would like to learn more about PBFI’s Sustainable Sourcing Initiative, click here.

Looking Forward

These three initiatives represent significant forward momentum for the plant-based foods industry and the policy and food systems teams at both PBFA and PBFI remain dedicated to advocating on the behalf of our industry and fostering a collaborative dialogue in service of a transition to agriculture that is regenerative and based on plants for direct human consumption.