September 19, 2013
Earlier this week, two “Dear Colleague” letters in support of soil and wetlands conservation and local and regional food systems were delivered to the leaders of the House of Representatives and House Agriculture Committee, in advance of a possible House-Senate conference on the farm bill. Thanks to the leadership of Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) on the conservation letter and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) on the local food letter, and thanks to calls and visits by NSAC members and supporters, dozens of Members of Congress are demanding that key conservation and economic development priorities be included in the final version of the farm bill.
Over 100 Members of the House signed on to a letter calling for federal crop insurance subsidies to be linked to basic conservation requirements. Most farm subsidy programs have been linked to conservation requirements since 1985, a key contributor to a 40 percent reduction in soil erosion on over 140 million acres of farmland. Since 1996, however, federal crop insurance has been the one major exception.
“High land prices, driven by strong demand for our commodities, are boosting farm income and putting significant pressure on our land and water resources,” the letter states. “This makes the current conservation compliance provisions all the more important. As agricultural policy shifts from a system of direct payments to a system of crop insurance and risk management, conservation compliance must be included in all agricultural income support programs, including crop insurance.”
Tying federal crop insurance premium subsidies to basic soil and water conservation practices remains a top priority for NSAC. Earlier this year, it was included in the Senate Farm Bill but not in the House version. We join the 108 Members of Congress who signed this Dear Colleague letter in calling for re-linkage of conservation requirements to federal crop insurance subsidies.
Twenty-three Members of the House signed a second letter urging conferees to support provisions that strengthen local and regional agriculture, “a major economic driver in the farm economy.” The letter notes that according to USDA, local food sales now account for $5 billion annually.
Specifically, the letter requests adoption of Senate-passed funding levels for the Value-Added Producer Grant program and SNAP incentives to increase consumption of local fruits and vegetables, as well as the higher House-passed funding level for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. It also requests adoption of Senate-passed provisions for organic programs and Farm Services Agency (FSA) credit for local and regional agricultural producers. Finally, the letter requests support for innovative programs contained in the House bill, such as pilot projects promoting local options for USDA foods, and the Senate-authorized Food and Agriculture Service Learning program. These measures will help ensure that the Farm Bill supports local job creation, economic development, and family farms.
Additional Dear Colleague letters on other farm bill topics important to NSAC are in the works. We will report on those as they are finalized.