Farm Bill Can Move Us Toward a More Sustainable Food and Farm Future
Every four or five years, federal farm and food policy is up for debate, revision and/or renewal. The current farm bill expires September 2018 so the clock is ticking for passage. Leadership in both Houses of Congress promise action on the bill to pick up by March 2018. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill provides a comprehensive vision for a more sustainable food and farm system. NSAC, a leader in agricultural policy for over 30 years, has developed an agenda that addresses farming opportunities and conservation needs, invests in local and regional food economies and needed research, supports public seeds and breeds research, and modernizes the farm safety net of crop insurance. NSAC’s 120 members, including the Kansas Rural Center, work together to develop and advocate these recommendations.
*Increasing Farming Opportunity: Beginning Farmers and Ranchers
Nearly 100 million acres of farmland (enough to support tens of thousands of new family farms and ranches) is set to change hands over the next five years – during the course of our next farm bill. To keep the agricultural community and economy strong, we need to facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge, and land between current and future generations of family farmers. The 2018 Farm Bill should support aspiring and retiring farmers and ranchers by:
- Expanding beginning farmers’ access to affordable farmland
- Empowering new farmers with the skills to succeed in today’s agricultural economy
- Ensuring equitable access to credit and the federal crop insurance program
- Encouraging a heightened commitment to advanced conservation and stewardship for a new generation.
*Advancing Land Stewardship: Comprehensive Conservation Title Reform
Every day, American farmers and ranchers face a myriad of economic and environmental obstacles and challenges (e.g., extreme weather, soil and plant health issues, and pests) and work to overcome them. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs can help producers address these challenges by supporting agricultural resilience, strengthening their ability to absorb and recover from weather extremes and other shocks and stresses to their agricultural production systems and livelihoods. The 2018 Farm Bill should empower farmers and ranchers with the skills, resources, and training necessary to ensure farms and food systems are resilient and healthy by:
- Expanding program access to serve farmers of all types, sizes, and geography
- Enhancing impact by targeting dollars to the most effective conservation activities to solve priority resource concerns
- Improving support for conservation outreach, planning, and implementation support
- Increasing effectiveness and efficiency through better measurement, evaluation, and reporting.
*Investing in Growing Regional Food Economies: New Markets and Jobs
Consumer demand for local and regional products is on the rise, and this growing interest in the “farm to fork” pipeline is helping to open new markets and economic opportunities to farmers and ranchers across the nation. However, a lack of infrastructure (e.g., storage, aggregation, transportation, and processing capacity) and technical links (e.g., marketing and business planning) has made it difficult for many farmers and ranchers to update their businesses to reach these new customer bases. The 2018 Farm Bill should help connect the dots by:
- Helping farmers reach new markets through outreach, cost-share, and technical assistance
- Increasing access to fresh, healthy, local food for children and low-income individuals and communities
- Developing new and strengthening existing infrastructure that connects producers to consumers.
*Securing Seeds for the Future: Public Plant Breeding Research & Development
Diversification is a central tenet of any good risk management plan. In agriculture, biological diversity is key to ensuring success: having a variety of well-adapted crops not only reduces the impacts of extreme weather, pests, and disease, it also protects against price fluctuations in the market. Yet, the federal investment in public plant breeding R&D has fallen precipitously, putting food security at risk. By re-investing in public plant breeding research and public cultivar development, we can better ensure that all farmers have access to high performing, locally adapted seeds. The 2018 Farm Bill should keep American agriculture competitive and resilient by:
- Increasing seed options to expand farmers’ planting choices
- Boosting investments in research to further crop diversity and enhance the security of our food system
- Improving coordination and transparency to make strategic public and private investments.
Aligning Risk Management, Conservation and Family Farming: Crop Insurance Modernization
The federal crop insurance program is a cornerstone of the farm safety net, but it must be improved to better serve all of America’s farmers and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently. In its current form, the program has limited utility for certain types of farms and farmers in many areas of the country; it discourages sustainable farming practices like cover cropping while encouraging some unsustainable practices like short rotations; and it precipitates farm consolidation through its unlimited subsidies. The 2018 Farm Bill should modernize federal crop insurance by:
- Expanding access to better serve all types of farmers in all regions of the country
- Promoting conservation by eliminating insurance program barriers to sustainable farming practices and linking premium subsidies to stewardship practices that protect our land, water and health
- Reforming the program’s structure to prevent the program from unfairly influencing markets, land access, or planting decisions and from promoting farm consolidation and weakened rural communities
- Improving delivery to make the program more transparent and efficient.
NSAC Positions on Other Key Farm Bill Issues
In addition to the priorities outlined above, NSAC will advocate for 2018 Farm Bill provisions that will:
- Advance racial equity in the food and farm system
- Reverse the trend of rapid consolidation and vertical integration in agriculture
- Increase access to healthy food, particularly for vulnerable children
- Close commodity subsidy loopholes and includes reasonable subsidy limits.
- Focus farm loan programs on family-sized farms and historic target constituencies, including beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers
- Reaffirm USDA’s Rural Development Mission Area and creates new rural business investment opportunities
- Scale up funding for sustainable agriculture and organic research, education, and extension
- Focus renewable energy programs on solar, wind, and perennial-based biofuels.
The full platform can be viewed online at: http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/.
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