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Path to the 2018 Farm Bill: A Comprehensive Approach to Food and Farm Policy

November 1, 2017

2018 Farm Bill Platform Cover

Editor’s Note: On October 24, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released its 2018 Farm Bill policy platform, An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill. NSAC has been a leader in agricultural policy for over 30 years, and has been instrumental in helping to develop some of our nation’s most successful agricultural programs for conserving natural resources, advancing the next generation of farmers, supporting agricultural research, and creating farm to fork market connections. NSAC’s 120 member organizations put together these recommendations after months of working closely with each other and with grassroots stakeholders. An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill provides a comprehensive vision for a more sustainable farm and food system based on the recommendations and experience of American family farmers and the organizations that represent them.

This is the first post in a multipart series on NSAC’s policy platform for the 2018 Farm Bill. The second post is on Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, the third on Conservation, fourth on Local/Regional Food Economies, fifth on Seed Breeding and Research, and the last post will be on Crop Insurance Modernization.

Over the last year, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) held farm bill listening sessions, conducted surveys, and ran workshops across the country in an effort to gather feedback from farmers, ranchers, and food producing communities. The goal of these outreach efforts has been to better understand what programs and policies would best support a sustainable, equitable, and profitable agricultural system. Together with our 120 member organizations, NSAC used this stakeholder feedback to develop our 2018 Farm Bill recommendations and policy platform.

This initial post of our 2018 Farm Bill platform series is meant as an introduction to the platform and to NSAC’s overarching goals and priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill. In upcoming posts, we will introduce readers to the key takeaways and themes from our platform, including: Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers; Conservation; Regional Food Economies; Public Seed Breeding and Research; and Crop Insurance Reform.

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, we need to facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge, and land between current and future generations of family farmers. Like beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers face many, often deep-seated barriers to accessing assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The 2018 Farm Bill should support aspiring and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers by:

  • Expanding access to credit, crop insurance, and affordable farmland
  • Increasing technical assistance and outreach services to underserved communities
  • Empowering farmers and ranchers with the skills to succeed in today’s agricultural economy
  • Encouraging a heightened commitment to advanced conservation and stewardship

Advancing Land Stewardship: Comprehensive Conservation Title Reform

Every day, American farmers and ranchers face a myriad of economic and environmental obstacles and challenges (e.g., extreme weather, soil and plant health issues, and pests) and work to overcome them to maintain productivity and profitability. USDA programs can help producers address these challenges by supporting agricultural resilience, strengthening their ability to absorb and recover from weather extremes and other shocks and stresses to their agricultural production systems and livelihoods. The 2018 Farm Bill should empower farmers and ranchers with the skills, resources, and training necessary to ensure farms and food systems are resilient and healthy by:

  • Expanding access to working lands conservation programs to serve farmers of all types, sizes, and geography
  • Enhancing the impact of federal conservation programs by targeting dollars to the most effective conservation activities to solve priority resource concerns
  • Improving support for program outreach, conservation planning and on-farm implementation
  • Increasing effectiveness and efficiency through better measurement, evaluation, and reporting

Investing in Regional Food Economies: New Markets and Jobs

Consumer demand for local and regional products is on the rise, and this growing interest in the “farm to fork” pipeline is helping to open new markets and create economic opportunities to farmers and ranchers across the nation. However, a lack of infrastructure (e.g., storage, aggregation, transportation, and processing capacity) and technical links (e.g., marketing and business planning) has made it difficult for many farmers and ranchers to update their businesses to reach these new customer bases. The 2018 Farm Bill should help connect the dots by:

  • Helping farmers reach new markets through outreach, cost-share, and technical assistance
  • Increasing access to fresh, healthy, local food for children and low-income individuals and communities
  • Developing new and strengthening existing infrastructure that connects producers to consumers

Securing the Future: Sustainable Agriculture Research & Development

Research underpins every aspect of successful and viable farming, whether it’s a fifth generation commodity producer looking to diversify their crop rotation or communities seeking to become more resilient to external disturbances. Farmers rely on publicly funded agricultural research to help develop solutions for the challenges they face in their fields every day. Publicly funded research also informs food system issues related to nutrition, food safety, climate variability, and public health, as well as a plethora of other social and environmental issues. The 2018 Farm Bill should keep American agriculture competitive and resilient by:

  • Expanding seed options, giving farmers the freedom to choose what and how to grow
  • Boosting investments in research to further crop diversity and enhance the security of our food system
  • Improving coordination and transparency to ensure strategic public and private investments
  • Increasing funding for organic and sustainable agriculture research to help farmers and ranchers keep up with market demand and overcome evolving challenges

Modernizing the Farm Safety Net: Crop Insurance and Commodity Subsidy Reform

Offering a measure of protection against wide price swings and market declines with respect to basic commodities is a legitimate function of government. The resulting safety net, however, should be just that – a safety net, not a subsidy system that encourages land price inflation, soil depleting farming practices and systems, farm consolidation, and declining farming opportunities. The current subsidy system is badly broken and needs to be fixed to bring it in line with widely supported goals of fostering new economic opportunities in agriculture, conserving natural resources and protecting the environment, and improving prospects for the whole of agriculture. The 2018 Farm Bill should modernize the farm safety net by:

  • Including strong, loophole-free payment limitations as well as conservation requirements for both commodity and crop insurance programs of all types
  • Expanding crop insurance access to better serve all types of farmers in all regions of the country
  • Promoting conservation by eliminating insurance program barriers to sustainable farming practices and linking premium subsidies to stewardship practices
  • Improving crop insurance delivery to make the program more transparent and efficient

Overarching Recommendations 

In addition to our five campaign priority areas, NSAC has also put forward overarching recommendations for the farm bill process. One of our chief, overarching priorities as the 2018 Farm Bill moves forward is that nutrition and farm programs are kept together in a single, comprehensive bill. There have been attempts during previous farm bill cycles to break farm and nutrition programs into separate bills; if successful, such a split would almost certainly result in devastating losses for both sides. NSAC urges Congress, and in particular House leadership, to commit to passing a single, comprehensive bill that includes both nutrition programs and farm programs.

In addition to a comprehensive bill, it is also critically important that Congress pass a timely farm bill that provides funding for a dozen innovative programs that lack a funding baseline after the current farm bill expires. These programs will run out of funding on September 30, 2018, if Congress does not ensure the next farm bill is passed on time. Without renewed funding, programs that farmers and American families rely upon will be forced to shut down completely.

Finally, NSAC’s platform includes several recommendations on the farm bill’s budgeting process. NSAC encourages Congress to: oppose any cuts to the farm bill through budget reconciliation and oppose cuts to anti-hunger programs; end sequestration; restore funding to the Conservation Title; provide enhanced mandatory funding and permanent mandatory baseline for programs that support the growth and success of family farmers; and include meaningful and effective per farm payment caps on all farm bill programs, putting a stop to open-ended entitlement programs.

Click here to learn more about NSAC’s work on the 2018 Farm Bill.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Competition & Anti-trust, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill, Food Safety, Local & Regional Food Systems, Marketing and Labeling, Nutrition & Food Access, Organic, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development, Sustainable Livestock

3 responses to “Path to the 2018 Farm Bill: A Comprehensive Approach to Food and Farm Policy”

  1. […] of American family farmers and the organizations that represent them. This is the second post in a multipart series that breaks down NSAC’s policy platform for the 2018 Farm […]

  2. VABF says:

    […] Executive Summary of the Platform is posted at https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/path-to-2018-farm-bill-platform/. To view the complete NSAC Farm Bill Platform, visit the NSAC publications page at […]

  3. […] of American family farmers and the organizations that represent them. This is the third post in a multi part series detailing NSAC’s policy platform for the 2018 Farm […]