Our Take on the Farm Bill Deal

Big investments in the “Tiny but Mighty” Local Ag Marketing and Beginning Farmer Programs show Farm-to-Table movement more than a fad

But conservation cuts will hit Illinois producers and waterways hard

Springfield, IL— Farm Bill negotiators reached a deal last night, releasing an 800-page draft Farm Bill. It’s a mixed bag for Illinois farmers, Illinois Stewardship Alliance members say, but the proposal makes programs that support the farm-to-table movement permanent, signaling their value to Main Street communities.

Leslie Cooperband of Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Urbana advocated for local food programs in meetings with members of Congress in Washington, D.C. Secured funding for local foods initiatives will sustain and grow valuable programs for small family farms like ours. Small grants programs targeted to sustainable farmers help us innovate and stay competitive in the marketplace,” she said.

The proposal provides permanent, baseline funding to the “tiny by mighty” Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP) and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG). These hard-working Farm Bill programs are among the only that support local food production. While they are tiny investments compared to the commodity title, over the course of the last decade they have proven to make a huge impact, supporting more than 30 projects in Illinois communities alone.

Matt Kilgus of Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury received a Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) in 2014.“The VAPG was a key factor in helping us diversify our family farm and bring more family members back to the farming operation. Had the VAPG not been an option for us, we probably wouldn’t of took the leap of faith to add an on farm milk bottling plant to our family dairy farm.”

Kilgus added, “VAPG is a great tool that helps encourage smaller family operations to take the next step in diversifying their operation to allow their family businesses to remain sustainable for future generations. We’re glad to know our legislators support the future of local food and farms by funding these programs.”

Above Matt Kilgus stands next to a piece of equipment at the family’s on-farm bottling plant, made possible through a Value Added Producer Grant. The grant helped the Kilgus family diversify their operation and bring more members of the family back to the farm. 

Happy cows at Kilgus Farmstead and Dairy turn and nod their heads as Matt Kilgus walks by. Kilgus Farmstead and Dairy is the only on-farm bottling plant in Illinois.

Alliance members are pleased the compromise bill rejected a House proposal to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), but disappointed that it still made dramatic cuts to CSP.

Though the Bill promotes and encourages the use of conservation practices, it also lays out a plan over the next ten years to cut working lands conservation through programs like CSP. We are happy to see that CSP has been retained as an independent program, however it may face a tough road in years to come. We applaud Conferees for advocating for conservation and working lands programs, but are disappointed over the bill’s inaction to prepare for a regenerative future.

Chase Brown of Brown & Brown Farms in Decatur said, “CSP encompasses the whole farm. We used CSP for five years and it has worked great. We tried conservation practices we had not tried before.” Cutting funding to programs like CSP could potentially affect the amount of practices conservation farmers implement on their farms. Without proper incentive, even the most conservation minded farmers are wary to run the risk of experimenting with new practices.  

The Farm Bill also cleared the path for farmers to grow industrial hemp. Rachel Berry, a first generation farmer from Princeton said, “A new crop is a once in a lifetime opportunity for farmers. Making hemp legal benefits farmers, our environment and communities. I’m eager to get my first hemp crop in the ground this spring and we’re focused on working with Governor-elect Pritzker and Illinois Department of Agriculture on new state incensing to make it possible.”

Stewardship Alliance rallied to support these priorities for the last two years, calling members of Congress, visiting members on the Hill, collecting hundreds of hand-written letters at “Dishing on the Farm Bill” parties throughout the state and engaging with coalition partners in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “We applaud Illinois members of Congress on the Farm Bill conference committee that listened and defended ‘tiny but mighty’ programs,” said Alliance Executive Director, Liz Moran Stelk. “We thank Congressman Rodney Davis for his leadership on these issues in the committee.”

Congress still needs to approve the deal and President Trump must sign it.