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Congress Passes 2018 Farm Bill

Dec. 21, 2018

Congress Passes 2018 Farm Bill

Congratulations! And thank you Slow Food USA members, supporters, and partners for your hard work in passing the bi-partisan, bi-cameral 2018 Farm Bill!  You heeded calls to action, connected with your Representatives, and raised your voices loud and clear. You should be proud of this singular achievement. We also applaud the hard and committed work of key members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

 

A year ago, SFUSA Executive Director, Richard McCarthy, kicked off our Farm Bill Advocacy Campaign by sending our 2018 Farm Bill Priorities (click here to view them) to key U.S. Senate and House Leadership. Our priorities were solidly rooted in our commitment to Good, Clean, and Fair Food for All and inspired by the work of more than a dozen like-minded and allied organizations including, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), the National Young Farmers Coalition, the American Farmland Trust (AFT), and the Native Farm Bill Coalition. 


Our priorities were organized around three important, high level goals:
 

  • Better Nutrition and an End to Hunger: Ensuring that all have access to ample, nutritious food.
     
  • A Level “Plowing” Field:  Ensuring fair and equitable support of those who produce our food.
     
  • Food for the Future:  Meeting the challenges of increasing population, imperiled agricultural resources, and climate change by facilitating transition to the next generation of farmers and ranchers and scaling up agricultural resource conservation programs.

Cross-cutting these priorities was the imperative of achieving Equity, Inclusion, and Justice throughout the food chain, at every link, from field to fork.

 

How did our priorities fare under the 2018 Farm Bill?

Better Nutrition and an End to Hunger:

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was spared cuts and a proposed change to work requirements, which would have punished low-income Americans and made hunger far worse, was rejected.
     
  • Permanent funding was provided to the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), which provides cash incentives to low-income consumers for food purchases at farmers markets.
     
  • The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program was reauthorized and given mandatory funding.

A Level “Plowing” Field:

  • A number of supports for Native American growers were provided, including eligibility for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers program funding;  reauthorized support for Tribal Colleges and Universities; eligibility for local programs that support growing, processing, and marketing Native foods; and the creation of a Tribal Advisory Council to the USDA (learn about the many other important Native American provisions here).
     
  • Increased and permanent funding was authorized to support socially disadvantaged farmers, farmers of color, and veteran farmers through the “2501” program, which provides outreach and assistance and farmer mental health resources through a new Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance network (additional programs for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are listed here).
     
  • Underserved farmers were given increased access to USDA farm programs even if their farms are on “heirs property” where ownership can’t be proved.
     
  • An Underserved Producer Report will be required every three years and include recommendations for reducing barriers for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and the Government Accountability Office will be required to investigate the challenges farmers of color have accessing credit and the lending practices of lenders towards socially disadvantaged farmers.
     
  • The Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) was created and permanently funded to help grow local and regional food systems and increase access to healthy, fresh food.

Food for the Future:

  • Improvements, including permanent and mandatory funding were made to a number of programs that support farmers such as: the training and outreach Farming Opportunity and Outreach (FOTO) Program and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which was expanded to cover food safety and succession planning; reforms to programs that support farmland protection and help farmers gain access to affordable land; loan program reforms to reflect the increased cost in farmland; new crop insurance benefits that expand the definition of “beginning farmer and rancher” from five to ten years; and the establishment of a beginning farmer and rancher coordinator in each state (read about additional young farmer provisions here).
     
  • Funding was increased for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which protects our agricultural land from development and to which was added a key land trust purchase and transfer to farmers provision that reduces farm prices; the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which helps farmers maintain and improve their existing conservation systems, was retained, however some funding was transferred to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to address natural resources concerns and improve soil heath, water quality, and wildlife habitats.
     
  • The Risk Management Agency will develop a Local Food Policy to include supports for specialty crops in urban, suburban, and rural settings and direct-to-consumer, farm-to-institution, and community supported agriculture and a new urban agriculture advisory committee will be created with competitive grants authority and funding for community compost and waste reduction pilot programs.

But, There's a Catch!

 

While we did well, there were several significant shortfalls.

 

While CSP was saved, it will suffer long-term funding cuts in the billions over the coming years with some of its funding to be shifted to EQIP. Additionally, there were no reforms to EQIP limiting the use of tax payer dollars to clean up livestock CAFO waste swamps. And while the livestock set-aside in EQIP was decreased from 60 to 50%, reforms were not made to restrict funding for new and expanding CAFOs.

 

While the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance (insurance) Program (NAP) was improved and ends discrimination against farmers who adopt cover cropping practices, it did not expand beyond certain states the Sodsaver crop insurance provision and apply it nationwide.  In addition, Performance-Based Insurance Premium Discounts for the adoption of advanced conservation systems were rejected.

 

Instead of closing egregious loopholes, commodity payments to high income farmers and ranchers were not limited and, in fact, a new loophole was provided that gives the largest commodity farms a way to avoid the statutory limit of $250,000 a year in subsidies. In addition, payments to the largest and wealthiest farms were expanded by allowing extended family members, such as cousins, nieces, and nephews, to be eligible for payments.

 

What's Next?

 

We should all be proud of the goals met in the 2018 Farm Bill. And, as for the goals not met this time, they will be the focus of our ongoing work and the next Farm Bill. 

 

While we included immigrant farmworkers in our Farm Bill Priorities, farm labor has never been part of the Farm Bill.  However, we felt we had to call attention to an intolerable and unworkable situations that so many farm laborers face.  While our food chain is highly dependent on immigrants, many of whom are undocumented, our nation’s policy has ranged from ignoring them, and the farmers who depend on them, to the present Administration’s increasingly hostile immigration policy, which ignores workers’ human rights and our nation’s need for a reliable and ample agricultural workforce. Our immigrant farmworker policies of inequity, exclusion, and injustice merit our attention, compassion, and advocacy.  Stay tuned!

 

Written by Christine Dzujna and Edwin Yowell III

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