Just yesterday, the House passed the 2014 Farm Bill. Senate passage of the bill is the only hurdle remaining. After two years of Congressional delays on the farm bill, RAFI reluctantly supports this passage of the final bill produced by the conference committee.
The final bill reinstates programs for organic research and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. It reforms risk management systems for diversified and organic growers. And it maintains protections for contract growers.
Included are provisions that:
- Give authority to the federal Risk Management Agency to include some on-farm, post-production expenses in crop insurance. This is a very big deal. For small and mid-scale farmers that experience crop loss, this may be the difference between receiving payment on crop losses or not.
- Require USDA to finalize organic crop prices for crop insurance, ensuring that organic farmers will not have to pay a 5 percent premium to insure organic crops.
- Provide modest boosts in nutrition supports — e.g. Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), “double bucks” farmers’ market programs, improved SNAP education and training programs, and Healthy Food Financing). These are small positive steps, but are far from commensurate to the SNAP damage in the bill.
- Provide $2.3 billion in funding over 10 years for programs that invest in rural development, organic research, and beginning farmers and ranchers.
In addition, it was expected that the bill would prevent USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from enforcing existing regulations that protect contract growers from anti-competitive practices. The final bill did not include this provision, which enables USDA to enforce some existing regulations.
Despite these aspects of the bill that support family farmers and rural communities, RAFI can only reluctantly support the bill.
Long overdue payment limitation reform, which had received support in both the House and Senate version of the Farm Bill, was removed by the conference committee. This is a breathtaking breakdown of the democratic process that will result in the continued wasting of taxpayer funds. The final bill also cuts $8 billion from SNAP. While this is obviously an improvement from the original $39 billion cut from the House version of the bill, it will still impact food insecure families across the nation. These provisions will exacerbate problems of income inequality in both our rural and urban communities.
After two years of uncertainty, family farmers and rural communities need long-term agricultural policy. While the process that brought us the 2014 Farm Bill was broken, the bill represents some long-term predictability in agricultural funding and policy. For this reason, combined with the positive reforms achieved in this bill, RAFI encourages the Senate to approve the bill.