Congress Faces Critical Farm Decisions Post November Elections
by Mary Fund
Compared to the 2013 September circus of government shut-down and breath holding tantrums, passage of the Continuing Resolution came and went almost quietly this year. By Sept. 18, both the House and Senate passed a short-term funding extension known as the Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through December 11, and sent it to the president for signature. This includes critical funding for agricultural and conservation programs.
What happens when Congress returns after the November elections is anybody’s guess and will be impacted of course by the election results. They can kick the can down the road a little further with another extension. They could combine all 12 of the appropriations bills for FY 2015 (which begins October 1) into one package known as an omnibus appropriations bill. They could pass some appropriations bills separately and they could pass more CR’s for other more controversial, difficult programs.
For agriculture, the House and Senate need to come to terms on the differences in the two appropriations packages they passed. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), there are “four important appropriations decisions that will have a major impact on farmers, food and the environment.”
Free speech rights for livestock farmers. The agricultural appropriations bill passed by the House includes an anti-farmer,anti-free market rider that severely limits USDA’s ability to protect livestock farmers’ basic rights such as free speech and rights of association. The 2008 farm bill gave USDA the authority to write regulations to provide basic contract and dispute protections to farmers who do business with the big meat processing corporations. The corporations have been trying to get this removed ever since.
Only the House bill contains the rider, which is a way to legislate for what they could not get earlier, through the appropriations process. For background on the GIPSA rider, go to NSAC’s sustainableagriculture. net/blog/gipsa-rider-details/.
Funding for critical conservation programs. The House ag appropriations budget cuts $109 million from the Conservation Security Program, $209 from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and $60 million from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The Senate bill would cut $250 million from EQIP but not the other programs.
The House bill would also slash the farm bill funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helps farmers adopt renewable energy systems, by 40 percent– from $50 million to $30 million. All of these proposed cuts come at a time when climate change realities of floods, and drought, and erosion and water quality problems are front page news as soil health, water supplies, habitat, and communities are impacted. In contrast, there are no proposed cuts or limits proposed to commodity or crop insurance programs.
Opportunities for beginning farmers. The Senate Ag Appropriations bill includes $2.5 first time funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Program , which would provide limited-resource farmers with financial training and matched savings accounts so they can build assets and make needed purchases to get started in agriculture. Addressing the needs of first time farmers, or limited resource farmers, is critical given the exodus from farming and the average age of farmers in their late 50’s.
Food Safety Training for Small Processors and Farmers. Both House and Senate ag appropriations bills include first time funding for a Food Safety Outreach Program. It would provide farmers with the training they need, exactly when they need it, to implement and comply with new food safety rules.
All of the above are vulnerable to any negotiations hat go on regarding the appropriations budgets and any further CR’s. They are also vulnerable to the results of the November elections. To keep abreast we recommend visiting the NSAC website and subscribing to their updates– with a helpful contribution toward their work in D.C.
(With help from the NSAC Weekly Updates. See: sustainableagriculture.net/blog)
Mary Fund can be reached at email@example.com
From Sept-October 2014 Rural Papers