There’s no summer R&R on the beach for Congress right now as the Senate and House discuss and vote on Farm Bill 2012. Congress revisits this comprehensive piece of legislation, determining billions of dollars of governmental spending on agriculture, every five to seven years, and it serves as the key piece of agricultural and food policy.
The next few weeks will be monumental in determining Farm Bill 2012 because much of the current Farm Bill is set to expire. As lawmakers on Capitol Hill debate the key issues, many of which involve major funding cuts, two areas in particular have importance to small-scale farms.
- Cuts to Conservation Programs
Significant cuts to programs under the Conservation Title are proposed, including programs that prioritize conserving resources on working lands and obtaining conservation easements. Small-scale farmers readily benefit from a number of successful programs under this title, such as the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Grasslands Reserve Program.
- Decreased Beginning Farmer Support
Various cuts to initiatives supporting beginning farmers, veterans, and socially disadvantaged and limited-resource producers are also proposed, including major cuts to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which supports training opportunities for young and beginning farmers. Other programs that support agriculture business development and job creation in rural areas, such as the Value-Added Producer Grant and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, also are on the chopping block.
Additionally, some proposed amendments cover a range of topics of interest to sustainable farmers, such as requirements to label genetically modified (GMO) foods, which supports the idea that consumers have the right to know exactly what is in the food they they purchase.
It’s easy to shy away from trying to understand the 1,000-plus pages of the Farm Bill, but Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reminds farmers that they—and anyone who eats food—has a stake in the legislation.
Advocacy groups, such as the NSAC and the Community Food Security Coalition, help synthesize Farm Bill issues and send out timely, streamlined email alerts so you don’t have to do all the research.
“It is especially important for family farms supporting sustainable agriculture to voice their opinions because, inherently, the Farm Bill is not designed to support small farmers,” Lotti says. “Most of the programs and policies still benefit industrialized agriculture and large, corporate operations.”
To keep the Farm Bill from being overwhelming, identify and follow a few key issues important to you, then voice your opinion to your Congressional representatives. Calls to your Congressional offices, identifying specifically the issue and the action you want him or her to take, are extremely important and serve as the pipeline for small-scale farmers to advocate for change.
“It gets busy on the farm, so I keep my representatives’ office numbers programmed into my cell phone so I can easily call when an important issue is coming up for a vote,” says Matt Sheaffer, co-owner of Sandhill Organics in northern Illinois. “On a purely practical note, I want to ensure that small-farm programs we’ve benefited from—from conservation programs to cost sharing for organic certification—keep receiving support.”