NSAC's Blog

What’s at Stake: Local and Regional Food Programs

September 10, 2018

Locally grown cherries sold at Tonnemaker's Farm Stand in Washington. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik

Locally grown plums sold at Tonnemaker’s Farm Stand in Washington. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik

Editor’s Note: The 2014 Farm Bill expires on September 30th. If the next farm bill is not finalized before that date, numerous “tiny but mighty” farm bill programs that support family farmers and food-producing communities will effectively shut down in terms of new funding and grant opportunities for fiscal year 2019. These workhorse programs, which have small price tags but big impacts, touch nearly every part of the American food and farm sectors. This is the second post of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s “What’s at Stake?” series, which highlights soon-to-expire farm bill programs and details what their absence could mean for farmers and communities nationwide.

The local food market brought in $8.7 billion in revenue for producers in 2015 — but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic potential of this burgeoning marketplace. Current estimates by USDA suggest that the local and regional food economy could bring home as much as $20 billion in sales by 2019.

Numerous USDA programs have supported this growth by helping farmers, ranchers, and consumers connect; and while demand for and sales of locally and regionally produced food has increased rapidly, much of the sector’s ability to reach its full potential will depend on what Congress does in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill. That is why the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) recently joined with over 300 organizations, including over 50 national organizations, on a letter asking the leaders of the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee to include the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) in the final bill (more on LAMP below).

Our hope is that Congress can finalize and pass a full farm bill reauthorization before the 2014 Farm Bill expires at the end of this month. If that doesn’t happen, however, some of the most important local and regional food development programs will be at risk of stalling out.

How the Farm Bill Helps Grow Local Food Economies 

Thanks to targeted investments made in the local and regional food sector over the course of the last several farm bills, the industry today provides myriad benefits to producers and consumers alike. In fact, data from the 2007 and 2012 Census of Agriculture found that farmers who marketed food directly to consumers had a greater chance of remaining in business than similarly sized farms that did not. The industry also supports families across the country by increasing their access to healthy, fresh foods – this is particularly important for lower-income families who may not otherwise have healthy food options in their neighborhoods. Shoppers who use funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) make up a significant customer base for local producers: SNAP participants spent $22.4 million in benefits at nearly 7,400 farmers markets nationwide in 2017 – a 130 percent increase from 2012.

Two farm bill programs that have played a central role in growing local and regional food systems are the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) program. FMLFPP was created in the 2014 Farm Bill by building upon the successful Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). FMPP laid the groundwork for growth in the local food economy by providing competitive grants for projects that increased and strengthened direct producer-to-consumer marketing channels. Today, the expanded FMLFPP provides Direct and Intermediated Marketing Grants that support everything from farmers markets and CSA programs to the development of regional food hubs and distribution centers.

Josh Dansdill has seen first-hand how impactful FMPP support can be through his work with Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D), Inc. Since 2010, Northeast Iowa RC&D has leveraged three different FMPP grants to help area farmers markets grow and better serve farmers and eaters:

“FMPP grants have allowed us to become a resource hub for the producers and farmers markets in our region,” said Dansdill in an interview with NSAC. “This program helps organizations like ours to help farmers in our area with whatever they need – from designing a logo, to producing a banner, to finding new markets to sell at. In rural Iowa, many of these markets are kind of on their own. Because of the resources from FMPP, we are able to help these groups pull together and think of themselves as a region, we were able to do this for markets, getting people to pool their resources, and to create a collective face.”

In the same farm bill year that FMPP was expanded, the FINI program was also created. FINI provides grants on a competitive basis to projects that utilize cash incentives to increase SNAP consumers’ purchasing power at farmers markets and other authorized retailers. This program has helped families add more fresh fruits and vegetables to their families’ diets. In its first year in action (2015), FINI operated at nearly 1,000 farmers markets and provided an estimated 16-32 million in additional servings of fruits and vegetables for SNAP households.

What’s Next?

Though the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee is actively working on negotiating the draft farm bills from the House and Senate, there are very few working days left before the last farm bill expires (September 30). Family farmers and advocacy organizations like NSAC are fighting to protect local and regional food programs in the next farm bill, but we are also preparing for the possibility that the farm bill will not be passed on time – in which case the 2014 Farm Bill would have to be extended. Under an extension scenario, tiny but mighty programs like FMLFPP and FINI are not automatically funded; in fact, USDA would be unable to make any new awards unless Congress provides new funding. NSAC is therefore working with our members and allies to ensure that these critical programs are funded should we be faced with an extension.

Between the House and Senate draft farm bills, the Senate’s bill is the clear winner when it comes to supporting local and regional food systems. As mentioned above, the Senate bill creates a new program called the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which combines FMLFPP with the Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program and several other related initiatives. LAMP streamlines and amplifies the most effective components of these two programs, while also maintaining their core functions and benefits.

Historically, FMLFPP and VAPG have not had permanent baseline funding, which means that farmers and program advocates had to fight for their survival each farm bill cycle (also why they would be at risk under a farm bill extension). By including a $60-million-per-year investment in local and regional food economies through LAMP, the Senate farm bill ensures that funding for these tools and resources continues into future farm bill cycles.

In addition to increasing support for FMLFPP through LAMP, the Senate bill also increases funding for FINI and provides permanent baseline. The House’s farm bill does not include LAMP or provide mandatory funding for FMLFPP, though it does increase investment in FINI and provide it with permanent baseline funding.

NSAC is actively advocating for a fully reauthorized farm bill that includes permanent baseline funding for FINI and FMLFPP (via LAMP). However, if Congress is unable to finalize a new farm bill before the current one expires, it is paramount that any extension include new funding so that FINI and FMLFPP are not hung out to dry – as they were during the last farm bill extension.

Our next post in the “What’s at Stake: Tiny but Mighty” series will focus on programs that support beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Categories: Farm Bill, Local & Regional Food Systems

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