Before we switch our focus over to the House, we need to do a quick run-through of the Farm Bill that made its way through the Senate over the past few weeks. With such a huge piece of legislation, it’s difficult to fully wrap one’s head around it; we are lucky to have the hotshots over at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to guide us through it and give their opinion. Here’s a brief from their bill analysis, originally posted on the NSAC website earlier this week.
On beginning farmer issues, the bill does very well for the Conservation Reserve – Transition Incentives Program and the Down Payment Loan Program, and medium well on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, and beginning farmer issues related to farmland easements. It fails, however, to include the new Microloan Program (included in the House bill), any funding for the Beginning Farmer Individual Development Account program, and any modernization of the badly out-of-date limited resource loan rate and participation loan rates.
On conservation programs, the bill cuts nearly $6 billion over ten years, while consolidating a variety of existing programs into bigger umbrella programs. It takes a disproportionate amount of the overall spending cut from the Conservation Stewardship Program and fails to improve, and potentially sets back, CSP policy. It also fails to reform the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. On the plus side, it creates permanent funding for what was the Wetlands Reserve Program (now included as the wetlands component of a bigger, consolidated agricultural easement program), albeit at a substantially lower level than WRP has been funded at historically. A second program consolidation creates a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program to do targeted conservation initiatives with outside partners working with USDA, though it fails to create a direct path for technical assistance funding for the partnership. The acreage cap for the Conservation Reserve Program would be reduced to 25 million acres, with a new grassland option.
With respect to conservation and crop insurance, the bill includes a national sodsaver provision to reduce insurance subsidies for breaking out new cropland from native prairie and other important grasslands, and also includes a re-linking of wetland and highly erodible land conservation requirements to receipt of crop insurance subsidies. The latter does not include any provision for better funding or enforcement through enhanced spot checking.
On organic farming issues, the bill does very well for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives, National Organic Program, and organic crop insurance, and medium well for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. It fails to make any of the needed improvements to the Organic Initiative within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
On local and regional food system and rural development issues, the bill does very well for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer provision for direct farmer-to-consumer markets, and for SNAP Incentives (double up food bucks). The bill rates medium-well for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program and for Community Food Grants. It fails to include Farm to School provisions (included in the House bill) for USDA Foods and for the DoD Fresh program, fails to include local and regional food infrastructure improvements to an array of rural development programs, fails to include the Local and Regional Food Enterprise Facilitation program, and fails to increase funding for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
So that’s that! We want to thank everyone who played a part in pushing their Senators to support beginning farmers, when the opportunity arose. In the next few weeks you’ll be hearing a lot more about the House’s process, so please stay tuned!