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Another step toward a farm bill as the clock ticks down

Well, we’ve been focusing the past couple weeks on the proposed food safety regulations that are turning a lot of heads in the farming communities, but let’s take a quick moment to check out what Congress is up to on the Farm Bill.

Frank Lucas pic
Congressman Frank Lucas, chair of the House Agriculture Committee

Congress has only a couple weeks left before the September 30th expiration of the farm bill extension.  As you’ll recall from earlier this summer, the Senate passed a version of a new five-year bill but the House ran into a partisan snag when it tried to follow suit.  After an attempt at a full bill failed, the House put forward a second bill that excluded the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), which had proven controversial.  That left those of us looking on wondering, “how are they going to reconcile the two bills if one leaves out such a huge program?”

The House of Representatives is taking a second shot at passing a SNAP bill, addressing that earlier gap.  Unfortunately for those that rely on the program (and we’ve heard from hundreds of NYFC members that young farmers stand united with the 47 million Americans in need of assistance), the proposal cuts the program by a monumental $40 billion over ten years.  The bill is expected to come to a vote later this week, and House GOP leaders are working to bring together enough support to pass it.  Not a single Democrat is expected to vote in favor.

Whether the SNAP bill passes or fails, the show must go on.  For the farm bill, that means conferencing the two versions together to produce one bill to send to the president’s desk.  The Senate (always one step ahead of the House, it seems), has already appointed delegates for conference and the House should do so after their SNAP vote.  Given the radical differences between what’s come out of the Senate and the House, the conference is a chance for conferees to take the “best of both” for the beginning farmer and sustainable agriculture community.  What would that look like?  Here are a few examples:

SNAP sign
The SNAP program – relied on by 47 million Americans.

SNAP: Not surprising, given the House’s current draconian proposal, the House version suggests cuts ten times the size of the Senate’s.  

Conservation: Both bills offer some cuts – $3.5 billion in the Senate bill and $4.8 billion in the House bill.  Interestingly, both versions suggest disproportionate cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Proposal (which incentivises upgrading farms to better conservation practices), but the House cuts it far more.  Given the necessity to encourage environmental stewardship (and to support farmers who want to be good environmental stewards but find it economically difficult), we hope that the final bill will at very least cut CSP no more than any other program.

Other Stranded Programs: The stranded programs are the programs that support new farms, local markets and rural development that got left out last year in the farm bill extension.  Here we see a mixed bag: the House bill provides more funding to programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program ($20 million a year), the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative ($20 million a year), the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program ($30 million a year) and for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative ($60 million a year).  In other cases, such as the Value-Added Producer Grants, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program and the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, the Senate puts forward better numbers.  Our hope, of course, is that each of these programs will receive the higher of the two proposed funding levels, given the need to support beginning and sustainable-ag farmers.

That’s a short synopsis of the farm bill process so far, and what to expect in the near future.  Stay tuned for more to come!
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