Many well-intentioned legislative campaigns make the fatal mistake of believing that winning something in Congress means that change is certain. In reality, there are three other parts to the policy-making process that affect whether a program ultimately works on the ground, and are equally as important as the hard work of getting a policy idea into law. Vital to each of these steps is grassroots participation, from which the strength of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), its members, and the sustainable agriculture movement comes. While the 2008 Farm Bill legislative campaign is over, the next steps are critical to ensuring that program wins are adequately implemented and funded.
The administrative stage of the policy-making process is critical. At this step, after Congress has passed the Farm Bill into law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture writes the rules for how these programs will be implemented on the ground.NSAC’s legislative gains in the 2008 Farm Bill could come to nothing without vigilant attention during this phase. NSAC’s D.C.-based policy staff regularly check in with agency staff at USDA to track the implementation status of particular programs, share input on behalf of NSAC members, and provide information back to its membership.
Grassroots individuals also have a major role to play during this stage. One effective advocacy tactic is commenting on rules. Proposed agency rules are published in the Federal Register and are usually open for public comment from 30-90 days. When proposed rules have been posted, NSAC and its member groups will provide example comments that grassroots individuals can use in formulating their own responses.
During the annual appropriations phase of the policy-making cycle, Congress renews the allocation of funding for all “discretionary” programs that are authorized in the farm bill. Programs that are authorized as “mandatory” funding in the farm bill, though theoretically protected with automatic funding for a certain amount each year, are also at risk of having their funding raided by appropriators to pay for other programs. Visit the appropriations page for additional specific information about how the appropriations process works, as well as NSAC’s priorities in the FY 2012 appropriations campaign.
It is important during this stage of the policy-making process that Members of Congress hear from their constituents. Through phone calls to Senator and Representative’s offices, faxed letters, and in-district meetings, grassroots individuals have an important role to play in shaping the outcome of important federal funding decisions. Visit NSAC’s Advocacy Toolkit for more information on these actions.
The final stage is promoting and using the farm bill programs. The ultimate test of a program’s success rests on whether it is used by farmers, ranchers, and grassroots organizations, and whether at the end of the day it accomplishes the intended goals and objectives on the ground.
It is vital that farmers, ranchers, non-profit organizations, and other eligible entities know about and respond to funding opportunities. Request of Proposal notices for competitive grants, as well as sign-ups for farm bill programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program, are posted in the Federal Register. Notices of funding opportunities are also included in our blog, the NSAC Weekly Update. It is also important for farmers and individuals to join grassroots state-based organizations, such as NSAC member organizations, who regularly organize field days on farms in their state and region and often serve on State Technical Committees.