NSAC's Blog

Path To The 2018 Farm Bill: Legislative Campaign Update

March 30, 2018

Farmers and advocates meet with Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) to discuss their priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill as part of the March 2018 NSAC "farmer fly-in." Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.

Farmers and advocates meet with Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) to discuss priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill. March 2018 NSAC farmer fly-in. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.

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.

Increasing Opportunity: Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

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.

  • The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2017 (H.R. 4316) lays out a national strategy that breaks down barriers to entry and supports the next generation of farmers to ensure that the entire farm bill creates opportunities for new, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers.
  • The Young and Beginning Farmers Act (H.R. 4201) addresses the unique challenges faced by young farmers and includes policies to protect farmland, improve access to programs, and support local and regional food systems.

Advancing Land Stewardship: Comprehensive Conservation Title Reform

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:

Investing in Regional Food Economies: New Markets and Jobs 

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: 

  • The Local Food and Regional Market Supply (FARMS) Act (S. 1947, H.R. 3941) will strengthen communities with farm to fork investment and put choice into the hands of the people by maintaining and expanding USDA investments in local and regional food economies.
  • The Farm to School Act of 2017 (S. 1767, H.R. 3687) will enhance the effectiveness of the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program improving healthy food choices and educational efforts for children and economic opportunities for farmers.

Securing the Future: Sustainable Agriculture Research & Development

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.

  • Seeds for the Future Act (H.R. 5208) increases public resources for plant breeding research to ensure farmers have access to high-quality seeds suited for a diverse range of cropping systems.
  • Organic Agriculture Research Act (S. 2404, H.R. 2436) provides increased support for the agricultural research community to provide organic farmers with the information and resources they need to scale up and meet rapidly increasing consumer demand for organics.

Modernizing the Farm Safety Net: Crop Insurance Reform

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:

  • Crop Insurance Modernization Act of 2018 (H.R. 4865) will improve access to the federal crop insurance program, reduce inter-agency disconnects and inefficiencies, and strengthen the connection between risk management and conservation.
  • Agriculture Data Act (S. 2487) will allow USDA’s Risk Management Agency to work with other agencies and researchers to organize and analyze field level production data to better understand the yield variability reducing effect of conservation practices.
  • American Prairies Conservation Act (S. 1913, H.R. 3939) will expand the Sodsaver program established in the last farm bill from a small number of Midwestern states to the entire country. This program ensures that the federal government does not encourage the breaking of native grasslands to plant annual crops by limiting subsidies for crop insurance premiums on this land.

Next Steps for the 2018 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, 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

5 responses to “Path To The 2018 Farm Bill: Legislative Campaign Update”

  1. Melvin Womack says:

    Have you began the process of tracking and comparing 2018 proposals compared to the 2014 farm bill?

  2. Reana Kovalcik says:

    We track all the marker bills for each cycle, we don’t necessarily compare them apples to apples though. In the case that similar legislation is being introduced as in 2014 and it’s a sustainable ag issue, then we’re aware of who signed on in each cycle, things like that.

  3. Stephen ellis says:

    My fear is that in these times of 7 figure operating loans this farm bill and crop insurance will fall woefully short because of the cash needs to run even a “family” farm !! It just takes so much money to run a farm these days !! And the risks are just as huge !! I’m 73 and I’ve had 22 years farm lending experience overlapping 40 plus years farming !! I’m very afraid we won’t get the bill we need !!