RAFI Welcomes Sen. Stabenow’s Farm Bill Framework

—Stabenow’s Framework Provides a Strong Foundation for Further Negotiations—

RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International) commends the strong foundation for bipartisan Farm Bill negotiations that has been set by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) with the release of her Farm Bill framework on Wednesday, May 1. Taking the form of a section-by-section summary, the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act permanently invests Inflation Reduction Act conservation funds in climate crisis-focused conservation programs, protects critical nutrition programs, and takes important steps to make the farm safety net and farm credit more accessible and fair.

“RAFI is grateful that Chairwoman Stabenow is taking the lead in productively moving the Farm Bill process forward with this framework,” said Edna Rodriguez, RAFI Executive Director. “This Farm Bill proposal both protects and enhances the conservation programs that the farmers we partner with rely on to steward their land, and makes important investments in the regional food systems they operate in and in the USDA’s capacity to support them well.”

While RAFI will reserve final judgment on the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act until legislative text is released, RAFI is encouraged to see numerous proposals included that are supported within RAFI’s five Farm Bill priority areas:

Reverse Corporate Consolidation 

  • Establishes an office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters that will use all tools available to investigate and prosecute violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act. The office will serve as a USDA liaison consulting with the DOJ, FTC, and Homeland Security on matters of critical infrastructure security. (Sec. 12107)
  • Raises and clarifies standards for the voluntary Product of USA label for meat products. (Sec. 12108)
  • Directs the USDA Economic Research Service to produce new research on consolidation and concentration within the livestock industry and its impacts on farmers, ranchers, and consumers, based on data from the Census of Agriculture. (Sec. 12110)

Fight the Climate Crisis

  • Reinvests conservation funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) within the Farm Bill to permanently increase funding for practices that mitigate climate change. (Sec. 2501)
  • Expands support for conservation practices that mitigate climate change or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including agroforestry, silvopasture, and perennial crop systems. (Multiple Sections)
  • Supports producers to grow organically and transition to organic practices by providing increased financial support for organic certification and removing inequitable payment caps for organic producers within EQIP. (Sec. 10007)
  • Directs USDA to consider providing discounts on crop insurance premiums to producers who adopt climate-beneficial practices, including cover cropping. (Sec. 11103)

Give All Farmers a Fair Shot

  • Removes limitations on the number of years that farmers and ranchers are eligible to receive FSA direct farm operating loans, making FSA a “lender of first opportunity.” (Sec. 5202)
  • Restricts commodity subsidies from being provided to farms with adjusted gross incomes over $700,000 (down from $900,000), reducing the amount of subsidies being funneled to the richest and largest farms. (Sec. 1104)
  • Establishes an Office of Small Farms within USDA, with Small Farm Coordinators placed both within USDA national agencies and within each USDA state office to identify barriers to USDA programs for small farmers; also provides $5 million annually in mandatory funds for small farm microgrants. (Sec. 12209)

Address Past Discrimination and Change the System

  • Dedicates $10 million in mandatory funding for the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP) to expand conservation efforts and guidance for urban agriculture; also funds cooperative agreements with entities, including Tribal organizations, that support underserved populations in areas that have high densities of urban and suburban farms and allocates grants for urban and innovative producers. (Sec. 12208)
  • Provides legal support for farmers to navigate issues around heirs’ property by providing $10 million per year over the next five years for cooperative agreements between community, non-profit, and land-grant institutions and the Secretary of Agriculture. (Sec. 7502)

Rebuild Regional Food Infrastructure 

  • Extends and expands support for small meat processors by authorizing $25 million annually for grants to small meat processing plants and increasing the federal cost-share for state inspection programs and the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program. (Sec. 12103)
  • Maintains mandatory funding of $50 million and removes the matching fund requirement for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which includes Value-Added Producer Grants, the Farmers Market Promotion Program, and the Local Food Promotion Program. (Sec. 10003)
  • Permanently establishes the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program (LFPA), and allocates $200 million in mandatory funding to procure food from local and underserved producers and distribute food to food-insecure communities. (Sec. 10004)
  • Increases mandatory funding to expand the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). (Sec. 4401)
  • Protects SNAP from harmful cuts or work requirements and increases the federal match by 30% for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program to make improvements and expand existing large-scale projects. (Sec. 4403)
  • Provides funding to transition Puerto Rico from NAP to SNAP and adds Puerto Rico to the “state agency” definition under SNAP after transition. (Sec. 4118)

While the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act provides a constructive foundation for further bipartisan negotiations, RAFI looks forward to working with members across the Senate Agriculture Committee to include several critical priorities that have been omitted from this framework.

“The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act makes some positive steps forward in terms of access to FSA lending, for example removing the limitation on the number of years a farmer can receive FSA direct farm operating loans. However, it falls short of many of the reforms RAFI has supported in the Fair Credit for Farmers Act,” says RAFI Policy Co-Director Margaret Krome-Lukens. “It doesn’t address over-collateralization of FSA direct loans, or make improvements to the loan application and appeals process to keep farmers from getting stuck in cycles of denials and appeals, and losing seasons because of it. Additionally, while restoring eligibility for borrowers with FSA debt forgiveness over seven years old will help some farmers, it will not help, for example, farmers we are currently working with in Arkansas who lost their poultry contracts to plant closure and need to find a solution this year, not in seven years, to keep their farms and homes. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure that our next Farm Bill does everything possible to increase access, reduce risk, and ensure a fair process for farmers going to FSA for a loan.”

“The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act makes some important interventions with regards to fair competition in the food system, most prominently by establishing a Special Investigator for Competition 

Matters at USDA,” says RAFI Policy Co-Director Aaron Johnson. “However, a broad range of important market fairness reforms to address unfair livestock and poultry contracts, facilitate fair livestock price discovery, and strengthen and expand USDA’s enforcement of market fairness laws are absent from the current framework. More specifically, this framework allows USDA to continue funneling the majority of its procurement dollars to extractive meatpacking corporations instead of redirecting those funds to small meat processors that serve local economies, as the Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act proposes. In the wake of egregious power abuse, profiteering, and lack of resilience demonstrated by meatpacking and poultry processing corporations during the COVID-19 crisis and in its aftermath, farmers and their communities want a Farm Bill that takes aggressive action against corporate concentration and power abuse, and instead rebuilds the resilient and democratized food economies we all deserve.”

Overall, RAFI believes that Sen. Stabenow’s framework is a much-needed step in the right direction toward passing a bipartisan Farm Bill in 2024. The framework’s holistic attention to supporting on-farm practices that mitigate climate change, and its expansion of FSA’s ability to act as a supportive lender on an ongoing basis for farmers will expand opportunities for the farmers that partner with RAFI. 

Not to be outdone, House Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson also released a much shorter summary of his Farm Bill priorities. While too short on details to comment on fully, RAFI remains deeply concerned that Inflation Reduction Act funds might be repurposed for other uses not related to climate change within the proposal, as well as the absence of most of the priorities listed above. RAFI urges both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees to come to the negotiation table around Sen. Stabenow’s Farm Bill framework to advance a Farm Bill in 2024 that delivers more just and resilient food economies.

To learn more about RAFI’s Farm Bill platform visit RAFI’s Farm Bill Platform.

Rachel Brunner and Melanie Canales contributed to this press release/blog.

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