Farm Bill 2013: Where We Stand

saura, purple, sweet, potato,

After a full 48 hours of intense deliberation, the House Agriculture Committee passed a version of the Farm Bill 2013 late Wednesday, just shy of midnight. This came on the heels of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who passed their version on Tuesday. Much of these meetings and decisions happened quickly and within small committee groups, leaving the concerned public scant opportunities to keep up with the uncertain process.

But now–finally–everyone gets to weigh in. On Monday, the Farm Bill will be brought to the Congress floor. There is no clear process, yet the issue is quickly picking up steam. Solidified amendments may be challenged and uprooted by new ones. What we do know for sure is that, as your state representatives and senators prepare to make decisions, they will be listening to their constituents. That’s you.

The little time we have is precious and imperative. Call Congress today and let them know where you stand. Call (877) 757-6910 and ask to be directed to your senators.

Through our vision of a food and farming system rooted in respect, justice, fairness and equal opportunity for all, we at RAFI have witnessed decades of farm policies at work in the communities we serve. For this reason, we see both opportunity in the proposed amendments as well as strong setbacks. Read below for more information on what Farm Bill details matter to RAFI to support our vision.

Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) Rule

The proposed House Farm Bill includes an amendment that eliminates protection for poultry growers. This is a huge step backward. Without these protections, farmers’ contracts can be essentially terminated at will by the companies, allowing them to increase and decrease production on the backs of family farmers.

Through our Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform, we see how this lack of protection leaves farmers with nothing but exorbitant debt. Communities and families suffer, and corporations profit. An amendment is certain to be introduced on the Senate floor that would mirror the House language, and we urge you to contact your senator and ask that protections for poultry growers be reinstated. For more about specific details, visit our blog post regarding GIPSA during the 2008 Farm Bill debate.

SNAP Benefits

The current proposal would eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (formerly known as food stamps) for more than 2 million Americans. Moreover, new stipulations essentially force rural communities in need of these benefits to choose between owning a vehicle (or their sole mode of transportation) or receiving SNAP in order to feed their families. And it undercuts innovative business models that allow farmers and markets to accept EBT, such as NC farmer and TCRF grantee Jeremiah Dixon; once again, fresh food becomes inaccessible to low-income communities. For more, read our Come to the Table Director’s blog post.

Crop Insurance

The gap in coverage between large-scale commodities and producers of specialty crops or producers for specialty markets leaves the latter group with a significant disadvantage. The McIntyre Amendment in the proposed house bill narrows that gap, and we applaud that effort.

“On the one hand, proposals to further develop whole farm revenue insurance address the needs of diversified farmers and those who sell into higher value markets,” says RAFI Executive Director Scott Marlow. “But the transition of commodities programs into revenue insurance may serve to widen the gap and create a situation where too much risk is taken out of agriculture, disincentivizing diversification, conservation, and other production-based risk management strategies.”

Organic Integrity

The House version does restore funding to the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, as well as restore and increase funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. However, it fails to fund the very successful National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program that offsets the cost of certification for small-scale farms.

This is a small portion of the many issues at play in the next few days. We need more to strengthen the Farm Bill for an improved food and agriculture system respectful of the people and the planet.

RAFI is a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition which provides updates on the full range of farm bill issues.

“There is little farm program reform in the Agriculture Reform bill,” said NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner in a statement.  “Not only does the House Committee bill fail to adopt many of the common sense reforms included in the Senate Committee bill, but it includes provisions to move in exactly the opposite direction, increasing subsidy limits, decreasing competition, weakening conservation, and driving agricultural policy further away from supporting family farms, rural communities, and the environment.  We intend to see that these failings get a second review when the bill heads to the House floor.”

Click here for the latest updates from NSAC and details on the farm bill debate.

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