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Fact check: Biden’s vow to expand Conservation Stewardship Program is not a plan for involuntary agricultural collectivization

Shared tens of thousands of times on Facebook, posts claim that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden “wants American farmers to put their farmland into ‘land banks’” whereby the federal government “would then tell farmers what ‘sustainable’ plants they could grow.” The posts inaccurately portray the Biden campaign’s plan to expand the Conservation Stewardship Program as a plan to forcibly collectivize U.S. farms.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

These misleading posts falsely characterize the Democrat as a Soviet-style communist when the program is, in fact, voluntary and compensated.

Examples of posts making this claim can be seen  here here , and here .  

The claim began circulating after the former vice president mentioned land banks to an undecided voter during a Sept. 17 CNN town hall event in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In this clip here , a 2016 Trump voter who runs her family’s potato farm asks about decreasing regulatory burdens for farmers. In his answer, Biden mentions allowing more farmers to put their land in “land banks” through which the federal government will “pay you for planting certain crops that in fact absorb carbon from the air.” 

Michael Gwin, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, confirmed to Reuters via email that the former vice president was referencing his plan to expand the Conservation Stewardship Program. Contrary to what the posts insinuate, enrollment in the program is both voluntary and compensated ( here , more on how the program compensates recipients is visible here ).  

As stated www.joebiden.com/rural-plan/ on the Biden campaign website, the Democratic nominee’s “Plan for Rural America” seeks to “dramatically expand and fortify the pioneering Conservation Stewardship Program… to support farm income through payments based on farmers’ practices to protect the environment, including carbon sequestration.” Biden says his administration will push for “full federal funding for the program” and “ensure the program can participate in carbon markets,” with goals to both “combat climate change” and “create additional revenue sources for farmers.” 

The posts mislead Facebook users by likening the plan to the early Soviet policy of collectivization by the insinuations inherent in the term “land banks.” ( here ) Largely between 1929 and 1933, the Soviet government forced land-owning peasants (kulaks) to surrender their individual farms and join collective, state-owned farms (kolkhozy). Comments from such users include “He’s a communist son of a b*tch” ( here ), “Communism - Biden can get his food brought in from China!!” ( here ), and “No way, we will become the the (sic) USSR” ( here ). 

This characterization of the Conservation Stewardship Program is not accurate. The 12-year-old federal program provides farmers with annual payments to maintain and improve their existing conservation systems and to adopt new conservation systems ( www.benefits.gov/benefit/5868 ). 

As explained here by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Conservation Stewardship Program “is the largest conservation program in the United States. Thousands of people voluntarily enroll in the program because it helps them enhance natural resources and improve their business operation.” 

According to the Federal Register ( here ), the $289 billion Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 ( here ) amended the 1985 Food Security Act to create and authorize the Conservation Stewardship Program. In an election year, a large majority of lawmakers, including many Republicans, backed the farm bill rather than stand with an unpopular President George W. Bush ( here ).  

In 2012, the Obama administration extended the program for another two years and in 2014 reauthorized it through fiscal year 2018 (see page 14 here ).  

In late 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law a new farm bill ( here ) that changed the program’s limits on future enrollment. Explained here in a Congressional Research Service report, the farm bill amendments shifted the program from being “limited by acres” to being “limited by total funding.” 

Prior to this change, the program was limited to 10 million acres, amounting to about $1.4 billion in funding for fiscal 2018. The program now receives $700 million in mandatory funding, set to increase to $1 billion in fiscal 2023 (see page 14 here ). The Biden campaign says it will push for “full federal funding” and “dramatically expand” the program.  

VERDICT

Missing context. Misleading posts ignore that though Biden does want to expand the federal Conservation Stewardship Program, enrollment is voluntary and compensates farmers, and the program does not resemble Soviet-style collectivized farming.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Checking team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .   

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