The Farm Bill

The legislation that shapes the U.S. food system

The Farm Bill is a large (currently $956 billion) legislative package that shapes federal agricultural policy. It is renewed by Congress at roughly five-year intervals.

Federal dollars allocated by the Farm Bill largely determine our food choices and food costs, as well as how our food is produced. Ultimately, the policy decisions contained in the bill affect both our personal health and the health of our land, air, water, and communities.

What's in the Farm Bill?

The Farm Bill is an omnibus bill, which means that it incorporates a wide variety of provisions that might otherwise be considered as separate bills.

Recent Farm Bills have included provisions addressing, among many other things,

  • Credit, insurance, and other forms of financial support for farmers
  • Conservation
  • Nutrition
  • Research
  • Rural development

Not everything in the Farm Bill is about agriculture. The largest spending item in the bill is the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. There are also provisions that concern non-food crops such as biofuels. But our main focus at UCS is on the parts of the bill that directly promote healthy food and healthy farming practices.

The 2014 Farm Bill: After a Long Wait, a Mixed Bag

After more than one missed deadline, Congress finally passed a new Farm Bill in early 2014. This version of the bill includes both victories and disappointments for healthy food and farm advocates:

Wins for local food systems. The new bill provides $100 million over five years for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program, a reauthorized and expanded Farmers Market Promotion Program, and nearly doubled funding for the Community Food Projects program.

Progress on crop insurance. Our 2012 report Ensuring the Harvest highlighted the obstacles fruit and vegetable farmers face in trying to obtain crop insurance; the new Farm Bill contains significant improvements in this area, making the program available nationally and improving its accessibility for farmers who want to grow a diversity of healthy foods.

Support for organic farming. The new bill includes several provisions that will help organic farmers, including a renewal of the National Organic Certification Cost-Share program and $100 million over five years for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, which funds scientific and economic research that will improve organic production.

On conservation, a loss…. Funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides incentives for farmers to prevent water pollution, plant cover crops, and preserve wildlife habitat, has been cut by almost 10 percent over 10 years.

…and a win. On the plus side, the bill revives a provision—absent since the 1996 version—requiring farmers to comply with basic conservation rules in order to qualify for crop insurance subsidies.

Next on the Agenda: Implementation

With the legislative battles over for now, UCS is turning its focus to USDA implementation of the bill's provisions.

Fortunately, the current USDA leadership has shown itself to be receptive to healthy food and farm priorities, especially when it comes to the potential of local and regional food systems to spur job creation and economic growth.

We will continue to work with both USDA leaders and congressional allies to make federal policy part of a healthy solution to our nation's food system challenges.

Last revised date: November 2, 2015

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