Release: NSAC Comments on House Farm Bill Markup
May 16th, 2013
For Immediate Release
NSAC COMMENTS ON HOUSE FARM BILL MARKUP
Washington, DC, May 16 – The House Agriculture Committee late last night voted a new five-year farm bill out of committee by a vote of 36-10. The bill includes a variety of major priorities of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, along with several serious setbacks for farmers, natural resource conservation, and rural development.
In good news, it would restore funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and restore and increase funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. Funding for all three programs is higher in the new House bill than in the bill reported by the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this week.
The new House Committee bill also improves upon the Senate version by adopting new Farm to School pilot projects for school districts in the USDA Foods and the Department of Defense “Fresh” programs. Like the Senate bill, the new House bill would also direct USDA to create a new Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management insurance program for farms growing a diversity of crops and livestock. The bill includes a variety of other provisions based on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act.
“We applaud Chairman Lucas (R-OK), Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN), and the Committee for making these important investments in the future of American agriculture and new economic opportunities for farmers and rural and urban communities,” said Ferd Hoefner, NSAC Policy Director. “We look forward to working with both Committees to secure the best provisions from both bills that support new farming opportunities, agricultural diversity, good food access, and rural economic and job growth.”
On many other scores the bill is a major disappointment. Despite its name – The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act – the bill includes no major reforms beyond the preordained elimination of direct payments. It reinvests most of the savings from direct payments back into new commodity and crop insurance subsidies. It increases the per farm commodity subsidy limitation by 92 percent and leaves in place current loopholes that allow individual farms to collect unlimited payments. It places no caps whatsoever on farm insurance subsidies.
The new House bill also fails to include a national provision to reduce subsidies for plowing up native prairie and does not link receipt of insurance subsidies to common sense conservation practices to preserve the natural resources on which our long-term food security depends. It would also reduce funding for the most innovative and forward-looking working lands conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, by nearly a third. The bill also fails to renew the very successful National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. By way of a voice vote last night, the House Committee bill now also repeals the historic 2008 Farm Bill livestock market competition and contract agriculture reform title and in a dramatic overreach directs USDA to essentially stop all enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
“There is little farm program reform in the Agriculture Reform bill,” said Hoefner. “Not only does the House Committee bill fail to adopt many of the common sense reforms included in the Senate Committee bill, but it includes provisions to move in exactly the opposite direction, increasing subsidy limits, decreasing competition, weakening conservation, and driving agricultural policy further away from supporting family farms, rural communities, and the environment. We intend to see that these failings get a second review when the bill heads to the House floor.”
A number of NSAC-endorsed amendments were agreed to during the markup. These include provisions sponsored by a Representative Negrete-McLeod (D-CA) to better enable SNAP participants to use direct farmer-to-consumer markets, by Representative Courtney (D-CT) to initiate a USDA local and regional agriculture study and program review, by Representative McIntyre (D-NC) to improve technical assistance for rural community development loans and grants, by Representative McIntyre to increase the liability limit for Whole Farm revenue insurance, and by Representative Fudge (D-OH) to authorize a Healthy Food Financing Initiative at USDA.
“We thank the sponsors of each of these successful amendments,” said Hoefner. “We also want to thank Representative McIntyre for attempting to improve rural development funding in the bill, including the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which the bill sadly fails to renew. We also thank Representative Nolan (D-MN) for leading the charge to restore funding and streamline the Conservation Stewardship Program, and Representative Kuster (D-NH) for attempting to remove discriminatory penalties against organic farmers in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Thanks also to Representative Lujan Grisham (D-NM) for trying to restore full funding to the Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers program and to Representative Gibson (R-NY) for trying to improve Direct Farm Ownership loans. These issues will be debated rigorously and hopefully resolved successfully before this farm bill debate is over and a new bill is signed into law.”
NSAC will continue to work through the reauthorization process to strengthen the farm bill so that it further expands opportunities for family farmers to produce good food, sustain the environment, and contribute to vibrant communities.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.