January 28, 2014

Farm Bill Offers Seeds of Change for Industry Accustomed to Status Quo

Statement by Daniel Z. Brito, Union of Concerned Scientists

WASHINGTON (Jan. 28, 2014) – Late yesterday evening, congressional negotiators arrived at a compromise on the long-delayed Farm Bill. The measure now goes to the House and Senate for a final vote, and Congress should pass the Farm Bill to solidify progress that’s been made. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the Farm Bill announced last night supports a number of important programs that will begin to reorient our food system in a healthier direction. Yet, these beneficial programs are still dwarfed by commodity subsidies, and ultimately, Congress missed the chance to overhaul food and farm policy for the 21st century.

Below is a statement by Daniel Z. Brito, senior Washington representative for UCS’s Food & Environment Program:

“The bill includes reforms that could sow the seeds for a sustainable food and agriculture system. Programs that incentivize increasing access to healthy foods, developing regional food systems, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices are included and funded at higher levels. But these programs should be the core of this legislation instead of on the periphery. This Farm Bill, like many before it, still reinforces a food system rooted in overproduction of ingredients for processed food that tax our health and our environment.

“Transitioning to a sustainable food and farm system will not happen overnight. The Farm Bill is still the best avenue to start making this transition and this bill at least contains nuggets of improvement. There is always more work to be done, but for now, we urge Congress to put an end to the almost two years of uncertainty and pass the Farm Bill.”

Below is a list of the high points and disappointments regarding the bill.

Highlights include:

  • $30 million for the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). FMPP grants are an important vehicle for growing local and regional food systems, which can increase jobs and bolster local economies.
  • Electronic Benefit Transfer at farmers markets for redemption of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, increasing access to healthy produce for the neediest consumers.
  • $100 million for the Hunger-Free Communities Incentives Grants, to encourage SNAP recipients to purchase fruits and vegetables.
  • Strengthening of whole farm revenue insurance, offering farmers more flexibility in planting decisions and increasing production of healthy foods.
  • Reinstating the National Organic Certification Cost Share program. This program helps farmers with the startup costs incurred by transitioning their farms to organic production. This program is a cost-effective way to create jobs and increase organic production.
  • Appropriately funding the Organic Research and Extension Initiative and Organic Data Initiative, and a rebound in funding for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Research, while not the flashiest of initiatives, is vital to helping farmers make the right choices for their farms.
  • Linking eligibility for crop insurance and other support payments with conservation compliance.

Disappointments include:

  • Cuts to funding for conservation programs. These programs, popular with farmers, are vital to protect our land, water, and air.
  • Unsurprisingly, while direct payments have been eliminated in name, the overall system of commodity subsidies that incentivizes overproduction of certain crops remain largely in place in the form of expanded crop insurance and new subsidy programs.
  • Despite bipartisan support in both the House and Senate to limit crop insurance subsidies for producers making more than $750,000 per year, this measure was removed in direct contradiction of representative and democratic processes. Even worse, the conferees increased the allowable total subsidies per individual beyond what was proposed in any earlier draft.