Author: Wes King
Greetings from Washington, DC. As some of you probably have already heard after several impasses the Farm Bill Conference Committee yesterday finalized a deal paving the way for final passage. The House is expected to vote on the bill this Wednesday. The expectation is that the House will vote to pass the bill and the Senate will then follow suit and vote for passage by the end of the week. While the final deal is a mixed bag with important advances, as well some major disappointments, this morning at our winter meeting the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (which is why I am here in DC) met and voted to cautiously support passage of the final deal.
Overall this is exciting news, considering the fact that work on this new 5 year farm bill began back in 2011. However, the work is not over. One of the extremely important and often overlooked aspects of policy development and advocacy is implementation. Many of the local food and sustainable agriculture victories in the Farm Bill are new programs or major changes to existing programs with a lot of remaining questions and work regarding how those programs and policies will be designed and implemented.
Stay tuned for more information over the coming months on details and how you can get involved in shaping the future of these programs and policies. In the meantime below is a list of some highlights and low lights on what is included in the final deal.
The bill renews critical investments in important programs for beginning farmers, local food systems, organic agriculture, and healthy food access, and also relinks conservation requirements to the receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies. The final bill also rejected a series of extreme proposals to eliminate market and contract protections for livestock and poultry farmers. As a whole the new Farm Bill (assuming passage) represents a $1.2 billion over 5 years investment in local food, beginning farmers, specialty crops, rural development and sustainable agriculture. The so-called “stranded” local food and sustainable agriculture programs have all been reauthorized and funded, some at significantly higher levels. Several highlight are as follows:
- The Farmers Market Promotion Program has been expanded to the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and is funded at $30 million per year
- The Beginning Farmers & Rancher Development Program will received $20 million per year
- Conservation Compliance requirements have been re-linked to the receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies
- The Conservation Stewardship Program will be able to enroll 10 million acres per year
- A New SNAP Incentive program to provide “Double-up Bucks” matching grants is funded at $5 million per year
- Instructions to the USDA to create a new Whole Farm Revenue Insurance Program targeted towards diversified producers was included
- The Value-added Producer Grant Program has been funded at a total of $63 million over 5 years
- The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is funded at $72.5 million per year
- The National Organic Cost-Share Certification Program is funded at $11.5 million per year
- There is a new Microloan Pilot program funded at $10 million per year
While, the bill contains a lot to be excited about there are two major disappointments that stand above all else. The bill contains no real reform and continues uncapped, unlimited commodity and crop insurance subsidy programs, and significantly cuts conservation funding at a time when farmers are demanding more assistance to address the many production challenges they face. The elimination of the bipartisan commodity subsidy payment limitation reform approved by both the House and the Senate is not only terrible for family farmers and rural communities and a waste of taxpayer’s money, but also a perversion of the democratic process. It is the loopholes, uncapped payments, and excessive crop insurance subsidies that are structurally driving the continued depopulation of rural America and the growth in industrial sized monoculture farms.
State tuned for more information in the coming days, weeks and months.