March 30, 2018
The coming of spring has more than just the bees buzzing; activity on Capitol Hill is also shifting into high gear as the deadline for the 2018 Farm Bill approaches. This week represents perhaps one of the few quiet periods left in the capital as Congress takes a two-week recess back in their districts – a perfect time for farmers and “ag-vocates” to connect with their representatives and discuss their priorities and concerns. Once legislators return to the Hill, farm bill conversations are likely to heat up significantly and things could begin to move quite quickly.
The current farm bill expires in just six months. While farmers have spent the last several months planning for the next growing season, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has been actively working with our members across the country to elevate sustainable agriculture in the national debate around the farm bill.
As of the publication of this post, NSAC’s advocacy has led to over a dozen farm bill “marker bills” (pieces of legislation intended to signal the importance of certain topics) endorsed by the Coalition. These bills focus on a range of sustainable agriculture subjects, including: beginning farmers, conservation, local food systems, seed breeding, and crop insurance reform.
In this article we will highlight NSAC’s five major farm bill campaigns (as outlined in our farm bill platform), and the associated marker bills that together create a comprehensive vision for how the next farm bill can best support a more sustainable food and farming future.
Nearly 100 million acres of farmland (enough to support tens of thousands of new family farms and ranches) is set to change hands over the next five years – during the course of our next farm bill. To keep our agricultural economy strong, the next farm bill must facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge, and land between current and future generations.
NSAC’s farm bill platform lays out an ambitious agenda for how Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can address the core obstacles facing beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers: accessing land, building skills, managing risk, and ensuring the sustainability of their operations by effectively managing and protecting natural resources.
Two marker bills have been introduced in the House that put forward viable solutions to many of these challenges: The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, and Young and Beginning Farmers Act. NSAC urges all Members of Congress to co-sponsor these bills and support their adoption in the next farm bill.
Farmers know that without healthy soil, water, and natural resources, there would be no future for agriculture. While stewardship is a natural choice for producers, unfortunately, conservation activities are not always easy to implement. In order to put our farmers and ranchers in the best position to enhance both their profitability and sustainability, we need a strengthened Conservation Title in the next farm bill.
Family farmers have a lot at stake in the farm bill, and NSAC’s farm bill platform includes a detailed plan for how Congress and USDA can help them maintain viable operations and protect natural resources far into the future. To date, three key pieces of legislation have been introduced that mirror NSAC’s platform recommendations for agricultural conservation, and which the Coalition has emphatically endorsed:
Consumer demand for local and regional products is on the rise, and this growing interest is helping to open new markets and develop a “farm to fork pipeline” for farmers and food producers across the nation to tap into. Despite the serious potential created by growing consumer demand, however, many would-be entrepreneurs struggle to access these new economic opportunities because of persistent and significant barriers to entry. By developing the infrastructure and technical links to connect the dots between producers and local customers, Congress can generate new economic opportunities that will reverberate throughout both rural and urban communities.
NSAC’s Farm Bill Platform includes detailed proposals for how Congress and USDA can support producers who want to connect with growing opportunities in local and regional marketplaces. Congressional champions have included many of these recommendations in legislation introduced for consideration for inclusion in the next farm bill, including:
Research is crucial to success in agriculture, regardless of the type, size, or location of any one farming operation. Farmers across the country rely on publicly funded agricultural research to help them develop solutions for the challenges they face in their fields every day, and over the last several decades this research has paid significant returns on the public’s investment. Recently, however, funding for critical agricultural research has stagnated, even though the gravity and quantity of farming-related issues that require scientific solutions continues to grow.
NSAC’s Farm Bill Platform addresses ways that Congress can fill the gaps in our nation’s public research investment, including recommendations for investments in regionally appropriate seed varieties and traditionally underrepresented types of agriculture, like organic and diversified production. The following two bills incorporate many of NSAC’s recommendations for how the next farm bill should address our nation’s need for sustainable agriculture and research development, and are endorsed by the Coalition.
Federal crop insurance program is a critical risk management tool, and to ensure that it working as effectively and efficiently as possible (both for producers and for taxpayers), the next farm bill must modernize the program so that it serves all farmers equitably. Currently, the federal crop insurance program excludes or serves poorly many types of farms and farmers, while favoring and excessively benefiting others; it also discourages sustainable practices and encourages farm consolidation, which leads to the depopulation of rural communities.
Farmers deserve a federal crop insurance program that works regardless of what they grow or how long they’ve been doing it, encourages good land stewardship practices, fosters a level playing field for all, and is as accountable and transparent as it is effective. Many of the proposals outlined in NSAC’s platform that seek to expand access, increase equity, and improve transparency are also included in legislation introduced for consideration for inclusion in the next farm bill. NSAC endorses the following marker bills, and urges all Members of Congress to co-sponsor these bills and support their adoption in the next farm bill:
With just six months left until the 2014 Farm Bill expires, the window for taking action on the next farm bill is quickly narrowing. We strongly urge Congress and the Agriculture Committees to find a path forward, and to finalize the next farm bill before the current bill expires on September 30, 2018.
In the unfortunate case that a new bill is not passed before September 30, the Agriculture Committees will need to provide new mandatory funding for a number of critical programs that will otherwise cease to function under a straight farm bill extension. Hopefully, however, these programs will not be put at risk and a new farm bill will be passed this fall.
NSAC will continue to fight for a 2018 Farm Bill that is passed on time and that advances sustainable agriculture and equity in our food system.
For more information on each of the aforementioned marker bills – including bill summaries, detailed outlines, and opportunities to take action – check out NSAC’s 2018 Farm Bill landing page.
Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Carousel, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Marketing and Labeling, Nutrition & Food Access, Organic, Research, Education & Extension