The Farm Bill Blues: What Happens Now?
By Mary Fund
On October 1, the 2014 federal Farm Bill expired with more of a whimper than a bang. It is not that the expiration is inconsequential, but rather that it was drowned out by the attention given to the conflict-ridden chaos of congressional decision making and posturing of the past few weeks.
Farm Bill expiration is no small thing. It effectively delays implementation of many important conservation programs and shuts down the low cost, but “tiny but mighty” programs that support value added agriculture, organic agriculture (transition and research), beginning farmers, farmers of color, local and regional food system development, and rural enterprise development loans and grants. In addition farmer/rancher sign ups for conservation programs like the Conservation Security Program (CSP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Continuous CRP enrollment, wetland and agricultural land easements, are delayed. Some of the conservation programs still have funds but USDA does not now have the legal authority to use those funds on new projects.
Farmers selling into traditional commodity markets have seen a substantial decline in prices and are experiencing a depressed farm economy—made worse by the recent tariff war and interruption of markets. Now the uncertainty of no Farm Bill only adds to the distress.
The “tiny but mighty” programs have proven a bright spot in the down farm economy providing help and hope to individual entrepreneurs and communities.
They diversified income streams, created local jobs, and served communities and in general created opportunities.
Shut down of these programs means there will be no new support to help underserved farmers to get the training needed to succeed in farming, no new investments to help create rural jobs, no funding or research to encourage organic production, and no new rural enterprise development loans or grants, to name a few.
Negotiations are proceeding in DC behind closed doors, while many legislators are home campaigning. It is highly unlikely that conferees will vote on a final Farm Bill package before the lame duck session after the elections, but the major pieces may well be determined. The next few weeks before and after the election is a key time to reaffirm what is needed and what you want the Kansas delegation to support.
Last summer, KRC noted that the “House version of the bill had multiple flaws and represented a huge step backward from the policy needed to even begin to address natural resource challenges. Nor did it acknowledge the lack of a level playing field in terms of commodity subsidies or opportunities for beginning farmers or the needs of the poor or low income.”
Pressure needs to continue to urge support for the Senate version in the final Farm Bill as it offers the better deal for conservation, local/regional food related programs, beginning farmers, and greater support for nutrition programs. Our congressional representatives need to hear from constituents that we need a Farm Bill that:
•Invests in a sustainable future – by permanently funding programs that connect farmers and eaters, support beginning farmers and farmers of color, underwrite organic and sustainable agriculture research, and provide healthy food incentives for families
-includes permanent funding for the following programs, in line with language proposed in the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill:
* Local Agriculture Marketing Program (which combines and strengthens the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Value-Added Producer Grant Program, Regional Food Economy Partnership Program, and Food Safety Cost-Share Assistance)
* Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (which combines and strengthens the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Section 2501 Program)
* Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiative
* Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program
• Protects our shared natural resources – by protecting the nation’s largest resource conservation program on working farm and ranch lands: the Conservation Stewardship Program
• Targets support to family farmers instead of Wall Street – by maintaining payment limits and strengthening eligibility rules for farm subsidies
• Ensures food access and dignity for families in need – by protecting the SNAP program from cuts
Whether or not Congress can come together to resolve major sticking points to pass a final Farm Bill—or anything else for that matter– is anybody’s guess. Whether we will instead see an extension is also up in the air. What we do know is that we have been here before. This is the second Farm Bill cycle in a row that allowed an existing Farm Bill to expire without even an extension in place—and we came through that.
Many major Farm Bill programs like crop insurance, commodity programs, and even the nutrition program (SNAP) continue regardless of passage of a new Farm Bill because they have permanent baseline funding beyond the life of the Farm Bill. The uncertainty and insecurity created for all of agriculture and rural communities by not having a bill may push Congress to action. Let’s make sure there is support to include the innovative programs above. Work now before the elections to learn what your candidate supports and tell them what is important to you. Then vote as if your food and farm future depends on it.