Big ag wins out in the 9-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, while funding for small-scale- and sustainable-farming programs lay dormant.
Since Farm Bill talks were tabled in September 2012, little movement has happened in passing new legislation that would carry U.S. farmers forward into the next five years. That changed in the final hours leading up to the new year, when Congress reached a deal on the Tax Relief Extension Act (more commonly known as the fiscal cliff), tying a nine-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill in with it.
The deal, which prevented a return to permanent agriculture law set for the U.S. in the 1930s and ’40s, left small-scale agricultural advocates up in arms regarding the future of America’s rural culture. In statements released on Jan. 1, 2013, groups including the National Farmers Union, the Center for Rural Affairs and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition all criticized the last-ditch efforts to back large-scale farming and ignore the needs of family farmers committed to farmland preservation, water conservation and community development.
"The legislation that passed fails to provide disaster aid for farmers or necessary support for our dairy industry, yet continues unjustifiable direct payments,” said NFU president Roger Johnson in a press release. "The bill also does not provide mandatory funding for the energy title, specialty crops and organic provisions, and new important programs for beginning farmers and ranchers.”
Several programs that support small-scale, sustainable or beginning farmers will be unfunded in the next 9 months. These programs include:
- the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which gives new farmers business and marketing training
- the Value Added Producer Grants Program, which prioritizes small- and mid-size farm enterprises
- the Conservation Reserve Transition Program, which gives landowners incentives to rent land to new farmers
- the Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides incentives for small-scale farmers and ranchers to improve soil and water conservation
"Meanwhile premium subsidies for federal crop insurance will remain uncapped,” points out CFRA executive director Chuck Hassebrook. "If one corporation farmed your entire state, the federal government would pay 60 percent of its crop-insurance premiums on every acre every year.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman for the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, has continually pushed for Congressional acceptance of the Farm Bill passed by the Senate in June 2012, which included cuts to conservation and beginning-farmer programs, though she was also disappointed in the outcome of the fiscal-cliff deal.
"I am deeply concerned that Republican Leader Mitch McConnell insisted on including an incomplete Farm Bill extension that ends funding for important parts of the bill, including disaster assistance, while continuing costly taxpayer subsidies that were ended in the Farm Bill passed by the Senate,” Stabenow said in a press statement following the legislation’s passage.
She plans to continue work on drafting a new Farm Bill in 2013. In the meantime, sustainable-agriculture groups will be working to rally small-scale farmers around the importance of a more comprehensive bill.
"It is critical that small farmers speak out to demand that Congress do better by funding beginning-farmer, value-added, microenterprise and conservation programs—and stop subsidizing mega farms,” Hassebrook says. "We and our allies will work to get a better bill when this one expires, but it’s difficult to predict whether Congress will act to pass a Farm Bill or opt for another partial extension that leaves out small farms, beginning farmers and small businesses. We all need to speak out to get something better.”
For more information on what you can do to engage your community in Farm Bill discussions, contact Hassebrook at the Center for Rural Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 402-687-2100.