FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Reana Kovalcik
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Senate Committee Leadership Produces Bipartisan Draft Farm Bill
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauds provisions for sustainable agriculture, family farmers
Washington, DC, June 8, 2018 – Following the Senate Agriculture Committee’s release of its draft farm bill, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released the following comment:
Today, Senate Agriculture Committee leadership has shown that the farm bill can and should remain a bipartisan affair. Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have, true to their word, worked together to produce a bill that includes much-needed policy improvements and funding increases that will help drive the sustainability of American agriculture. The Senate bill stands in stark contrast to its companion in the House, which moved out of committee along completely partisan lines and was denounced by many farm and food advocates before it was defeated on the House floor. We are pleased, for example, that unlike the House companion bill, the Senate Committee’s draft bill makes no cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for low-income Americans.
The draft bill scales up investments for farm-to-fork initiatives and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer programs, and makes important policy improvements to crop insurance and conservation programs. It also fails, however, to make meaningful reforms to farm subsidy programs to limit economic and farm concentration, and includes significant cuts to critical working lands conservation programs. In all, we believe the bill produced by Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow offers a good starting point for farm bill negotiations in the Senate. We look forward to actively working with our members and with our allies in the Senate to pass a bill that protects and supports American family farmers.
Farm Safety Net
Our federal commodity subsidy and crop insurance programs are in dire need of modernization. We therefore deeply appreciate that the Chairman and Ranking Member’s bill takes important steps to improve access to crop insurance for diversified operations and beginning farmers, to increase data sharing, and to remove insurance-related barriers to conservation practice adoption. However, the draft bill also leaves untouched many badly needed reforms to the nation’s farm safety net programs. We urge the Senate to improve the bill in Committee markup and on the floor by adopting amendments to prevent taxpayer-subsidized programs from boosting farm consolidation and economic concentration. With family farmers struggling in a weak farm economy, now more than ever we need to close program loopholes and create a level playing field.
The Conservation Title of the Senate bill includes much needed reforms to and enhancements of critical conservation programs, including those from the GROW Act and SOIL Stewardship Act. We commend Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow for including policy changes in their bill that will help farmers to enhance soil health, water quality, and advance organic agriculture. We also applaud Senate leadership for prioritizing conservation assistance for historically underserved producers, and for protecting overall funding for the Title, (as well as restoring funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which was cut in the 2014 Farm Bill).
Sadly, these improvements are severely dampened by the fact that the Senate draft bill cuts funding from the farm bill’s two primary working lands conservation programs – the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives program (EQIP). Farmer and rancher demand for CSP and EQIP in recent years has often reached levels more than double the available funding, proof that these programs are important for farmers’ long-term sustainability and viability. While we appreciate that the Senate bill rejects any cut to overall Title funding, we believe that robbing cornerstone conservation programs to fund others in the Title is an ill-advised gambit that will open the door to additional attacks on conservation funding in the future.
Local and Regional Food Systems
Family farmers should be very pleased to see the inclusion of a new and innovative program, the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), in the Senate draft bill. This program will streamline and coordinate local and regional food investments to better connect American producers with new buyers and markets. LAMP brings together a range of separate – but related – market access and business development programs in order to strengthen and expand the farm-to-fork pipeline. The program also creates a new food safety cost-share assistance program to help farmers upgrade equipment and become food safety certified, as well as opportunities for public-private partnerships to support “food-shed” level approaches to developing farm-to-fork infrastructure.
We are also pleased that the Senate bill increases funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) Program, a key resource for increasing families’ access to healthy, nutritious food. Both LAMP and FINI receive permanent baseline funding in the Senate bill.
Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers
The Senate bill strengthens and consolidates two important training and technical assistance programs that support the next generation of farmers and ranchers – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (Section 2501) are combined to create the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (FOTOP). This program will maintain the independent functions and purposes of both BFRDP and Section 2501, while creating the structure for a unified and more streamlined implementation process. Like LAMP and FINI, FOTOP receives permanent baseline funding in the Senate bill. Achieving permanent baseline would be a huge victory for American agriculture, as it will ensure long-term investments in local food, healthy food access, and beginning and socially disadvantaged producer programs.
We are very pleased that the draft bill includes permanent baseline funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), and includes funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Organic Data Initiatives in line with the 2014 Farm Bill. NSAC is committed to strengthening funding for these vital programs and to advancing additional opportunities for organic agriculture in the 2018 Farm Bill.
In the next two weeks, House leadership is expected to try once again to pass its deeply flawed version of the farm bill. We sincerely hope that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) will reverse course, and instead take his lead from the Senate and go back to the drawing board to produce a better, bipartisan bill. We look forward to continuing to uplift the voices of American family farmers and ranchers and to fight for a 2018 Farm Bill that advances the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities. A deep-dive analysis of the Senate draft farm bill will be published on NSAC’s blog shortly following the release of this comment.
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more and get involved at: https://sustainableagriculture.net