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The 2012 Farm Bill (that never was) Year in Review

January 11, 2013

Although 2012 ended on a sour note for farmers and ranchers across the country, there were some notable moments to celebrate for the sustainable agriculture movement, amidst all the ups and downs of the 2012 Farm Bill debate.

In this final blog post of our “Path to the 2012 Farm Bill” series, we include twists and turns from the 2012 Farm Bill process, along with a list of NSAC’s top 12 moments to remember from 2012.

The 2012 Farm Bill in Review

While 2011 saw the demise of the Super Committee, 2012 brought a more “regular order” to reauthorizing the legislation that dictates our country’s food and agricultural landscape — or so it seemed at the outset.

2012 began with a slate of farm bill hearings, which informed the Senate and House Agriculture Committees’ draft versions of the would-be 2012 Farm Bill.  Two draft farm bills were written and then amended by fellow ag committee members through the Farm Bill mark-up process in late spring and into summer.

June saw the Senate farm bill brought to the floor, voted on, and eventually passed, making it one of the rare pieces of legislation with bipartisan support in the 112th Congress.

Meanwhile, drought ravaged farms across the country, sparking conversations on Capitol Hill about the urgent need to pass a farm bill to provide farmers an adequate safety net.  While farmers watched crops whither in their fields, Congressional leaders in Washington refused to bring the House Agriculture Committee’s bill for a vote on the House floor.

Fall brought national efforts from farm groups across the country to Washington to call on Congress to pass a farm bill now.  Amidst all the political infighting and pointing fingers at who was to blame for Congress’s failure to enact a new farm bill, the 2008 Farm Bill expired on the first of October.

Election fever subsumed much of the fall, and — despite calls from farmers nationwide for Congress to finish the farm bill in 2012 and restore funding for several now-expired economic development, conservation, energy, and research programs — the year ended with a surprise curve ball deal on a farm bill extension that ditched all reforms and common ground reached by the Agriculture Committees.

NSAC’s Top 12 of 2012

NSAC and our 90 member organizations and countless allies across the country worked hard all year to push Congress to pass an equitable and sustainable farm bill.  Although we are severely disappointed by the ultimate, short-term deal on the farm bill that was finally reached on New Year’s Eve, there were several wins to celebrate for the sustainable agriculture movement.

Although the following list is certainly not inclusive, here are some of the major sustainable ag highlights that will go down in the history of the 2012 Farm Bill that never was.

1.  Sustainable Farmers Testify Before Congress


Farmer Jody Hardin, pictured here with Arkansas Senator John Boozman, testified on the economic power of local and regional food for farmers in Arkansas. Photo credit: NSAC

NSAC successfully recruited an amazing slate of farmer advocates chosen to testify in front of Congress in support of beginning farmers, conservation, and local food.








2.  Farmers Travel to DC to Speak Out on the Farm Bill

John and Ora Carpenter from Moorhead, Mississippi visit with Legislative on Capitol Hill

John and Ora Carpenter from Moorhead, Mississippi meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC

In March, more than 30 family farmers and ranchers from 19 states traveled to Washington, DC, to share their stories and speak out for crucial farm bill programs that enable them to produce healthy food, build community, and sustain the environment.






3. Huge Gains Made on Reforming Farm Subsidy Programs


Cornfields. Photo credit: NSAC

The Senate made farm bill history by passing Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Durbin’s (D-IL) meaningful reform measures that placed enforceable limits on the amount of payments any one farmer can receive through commodity subsidies and an income cap on maximum insurance premium subsidies.





4. Conservation Requirements Reattached to Crop Insurance


Conservation buffers near a waterway. Photo credit: NSAC

NSAC worked tirelessly with several allies in the conservation community to gain support for an amendment offered by Senator Chambliss (R-GA) on the Senate floor to reattach conservation requirements to crop insurance subsidies and penalize farmers for breaking native sod for crop production.






5. Funding Restored for Beginning Farmers and Rural Development

Beginning Farmer Briefing - March 2012

Beginning farmers from South Dakota, Nebraska, California, and Minnesota after speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing in early 2012. Photo credit: NSAC

In June, the Senate adopted the Farm Bill amendment offered by Senator Brown (D-OH) on the Senate floor to boost funding for critical programs that train new farmers and spur rural economic development.







6.  Funding for Sustainable Agriculture Research

Ohio farmer Jeff Rasawehr, a 2009 SARE grantee, illustrates cover crops’ role in protecting water quality. The jar on the right holds runoff from a cover-cropped field; on the left is runoff from a non-cover-cropped field.  Photo credit: Sean McGovern, SARE Outreach

Ohio farmer Jeff Rasawehr, a 2009 SARE grantee, illustrates cover crops’ role in protecting water quality. The jar on the right holds runoff from a cover-cropped field; on the left is runoff from a non-cover-cropped field. Photo credit: Sean McGovern, SARE Outreach

Although not part of the farm bill process, funding was included for federal-state matching grants within the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in both the President’s budget request and in the Senate appropriations bill for 2013.  SARE is a key research program authorized in the Farm Bill, and although the House failed to include any funding for the matching grant program in their appropriations bill, this was a huge step towards leveraging federal funding for sustainable agriculture research.




7.  Support for Microloans for Beginning Farmers


Microloans can help beginning farmers install infrastructure like hoophouses to grow their businesses. Photo credit: USDA

In July, the House Agriculture Committee adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Fortenberry (R-NE) and Rep. Fudge (D-OH) to expand credit options for small, young, and beginning farmers by authorizing smaller microloans that reflect the scale of their operations.





8.  Expanded Flexibility for Farm to School Programs

Teachers and students work in a school garden in Newark, NJ. Photo credit: USDA

In July, Rep. Pingree (D-ME) was successful in passing a committee amendment that gives more control to States and local communities to start making their own school food purchases and creates demonstration projects to test alternatives to USDA food distribution through farm to school procurement models.  Also in 2012, USDA released the first round of funding for the Farm to School grant program, which NSAC and partners fought for in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization in 2010.



9.  Farm Bill Conservation Program Reaches Milestone

Fields in Salinas, CA planted with a cover crop. Photo credit: USDA

In August, the Conservation Stewardship Program – the premier working lands conservation program authorized in the Farm Bill – enrolled its 50 millionth acre, making it the largest federal conservation program nationwide.






10. Farmers March on Capitol Hill

Among the hundreds of signs held aloft by farmers on Capitol Hill was this one – “Next time we’ll bring our tractors!” Photo credit: NSAC

In September, just weeks before the 2008 Farm Bill expired, hundreds of farmers, ranchers, consumers, and advocates marched on the Capitol to urge the House of Representatives to bring a stalled Farm Bill to the floor for passage.






11.  Petition Delivered to Congress Demanding a Better Farm Bill

We delivered over 20,000 petition signatures to Capitol Hill!

In November, over 20,000 farmers and advocates, along with 60 organizations from across the country, joined forces to deliver a petition to Congress demanding a full, five-year 2012 Farm Bill that invests in the future of healthy farms, food, and people; protects our precious air, soil, and water; and makes real reform to farm subsidies and levels the playing field for family farmers.






12. Ag Committee Leadership Agrees to Funding for Key Programs

In the final days of 2012, the leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees came together on a responsible Farm Bill extension plan that would have restored funding for important expired programs that spur innovation and invest in the next generation of farmers (unfortunately, this proposal was never included in the final farm bill extension enacted into law in early 2013).


So there you have it – the top 12 highlights from the roller coaster that was the 2012 Farm Bill.

We could not have achieved any of these tremendous accomplishments without all the farmers and advocates doing amazing work in the field every day, so thank you to everyone who pitched in and lent their support, time, and energy to making the 2012 Farm Bill an equitable and sustainable farm bill.

Stay tuned — we’ll need you again as we gear up for 2013!

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Farm Bill

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