Remember the Farm Bill? It’s back.

When it comes to food and farm policy the last week has been like a full on marathon. There have been a number of important developments both here in Illinois at the General Assembly and on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.—the biggest being action around the 2013 Farm Bill.

As you may recall the Farm Bill, a large omnibus package of policies, programs and funding streams that structures our nation’s food and farm system, is typically written debated and passed approximately every 5 years. Last year the U.S. Senate passed a new Farm Bill, but due to election year politics the House refused to bring a Farm Bill to the floor for full debate. So instead we have been operating under a bad extension to the 2008 Farm Bill that left stranded a number of important local food and sustainable agriculture programs. Need a refresher on the Farm Bill process click here.

Both the U.S. Senate Agriculture and U.S. House Agriculture Committees have debated and passed competing Farm Bills. Both bills end direct payments and renew funding for important stranded programs like the Farmers Market Promotion Program (now the Local Food and Direct Market Promotion Program), the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program; but the House Agriculture Committee’s bill also contains very deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and is markedly less reform minded than the Senate Committee’s bill. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition had this to say about the House Agriculture Committee’s bill, “Despite its name – The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act – the bill includes no major reforms beyond the preordained elimination of direct payments.  It reinvests most of the savings from direct payments back into new commodity and crop insurance subsidies.  It increases the per farm commodity subsidy limitation by 92 percent and leaves in place current loopholes that allow individual farms to collect unlimited payments.  It places no caps whatsoever on farm insurance subsidies.”

In comparison the Senate Bill is over all much better and contains a number of important historic common sense reforms that will save taxpayers money, protect the environment and support local food and beginning farmers. However, among other important provisions, important limits to crop insurance subsidies that were included in the 2012 Senate bill were not part of the package—which brings us to the full floor of the Senate.

The Senate has been debating a new 2013 Farm Bill, and Senator Bob Casey, Senator Jon Tester and Senator Dick Durbin have introduced 3 important amendments that need to be included in the final 2013 Farm Bill.

  • [Senators Casey (D-PA) and Harkin (D-IA)] An amendment that authorizes a microloan program tailored for the needs of beginning and military veteran farmers and ranchers.  New farmers need access to land, credit, and capital to get their hands in the dirt, and this amendment will help them better access their #1 biggest need – financial capital to launch and sustain their farm businesses.
  • [Senator Tester (D-MT)] An amendment that will help keep a wide array of plant seeds in the public domain by ensuring that researchers can develop publicly held seeds for farmers – think the honeycrisp apple or non-GMO corn – instead of corporate-controlled privately held varieties that take control away from farmers. Classical seed breeding – and holding seed varieties in the public trust – is as old as agriculture itself, and is the source of the most-productive, best adapted seeds in the world.  Corporate giants like Monsanto are trying to privatize as many seeds as possible – so it’s critical that researchers at our public universities can access public research dollars they need to continue developing and improving the best possible seeds for farmers – and for home gardeners!
  • [Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Coburn (R-OK)] An amendment that takes a bold first step towards reforming ballooning crop insurance subsidies for wealthy mega-farms. It’s long past time to rein in these subsidies – this common-sense amendment will save taxpayers over $1.3 billion dollars and ensure maximum support goes only to those who need it, not a handful of mega-farms.

Among the hundreds of amendments (and those still yet to be introduced) the Senate will debate in the coming days, these stand out. They have the potential to make a real difference on the ground in the lives of farmers and communities, and represent a step in the right direction for getting our food and farm system back on track.

Help Make These a Reality – We need YOU to call today!

Here’s the contact info for your two Senators:

Senator Dick Durbin: 202-224-2152

Senator Mark Kirk: 202-224-2854

Calling is easy – just dial the numbers above and leave a message. Obviously you don’t need to call Senator Durbin about his amendment, unless you want to say thank you, but make sure you call Senator Kirk. When you call leave a message like this one below with the person who answers the phone:

“Hello, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent and a voter (and tell ’em if you’re a farmer!). I would like to leave a message for Senator Durbin’s [or] Senator Kirk’s agriculture staffer. Can you take a message for me, please? The message is: I urge the Senator to support Senator Casey’s microloan amendment and Senator Tester’s Seeds and Breeds amendment (and Senator Durbin’s crop insurance amendment) during floor debate this week. These amendments will help family farmers, beginning farmers and sustainable agriculture. Thank you.”

We won’t get a better farm bill – and, with it, a better future for our nation’s food, farmers, air, soil, and water – without your help! Make that quick call right now – and help us spread the word!


State Policy Update – Composting Reform Moves Forward

While, much of our attention here at Illinois Stewardship Alliance has shifted from state policy issues to D.C. as the Farm Bill debate has heated-up, action at the State Capitol has not abated. On Tuesday May 14th by a vote of 54-1 the Illinois Senate Passed HB 2335 the Urban Composting Reform bill that will make it easier for community gardens, schools, and urban agriculture projects to accept off-site materials like landscape waste and food scraps for composting on site. HB 2335 has passed both chambers and now head to Governor Quinn’s desk where we expect he will sign it into law making Illinois a national leader when it comes to urban composting. A similar bill, HB 3319, that will make it easier for rural farms to compost on-site by expanding the list of allowable materials for an IEPA on-farm composting permit exemption is scheduled to be voted on by the full Senate this we where it is expected to pass as well.

By the way, ISA is currently in the middle of our 2nd Annual Membership Drive, sign-up to become a member today and get entered to win dinner for two to one of Illinois’ premier farm-to-table dinners or Patagonia luggage.