Help shape the direction of the next farm bill
The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, also called the Farm Bill, expires in 2012. What is the Farm Bill and why should we care? It’s a major piece of legislation that underpins agriculture in this country. In the Congressional Research Services publication, “What is the Farm Bill,” the authors write, “The farm bill governs federal farm and food policy, covering a wide range of programs and provisions, and…undergoes review and renewal roughly every five years. The 2008 farm bill contains 15 titles encompassing commodity price and income supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy, and foreign and domestic food programs such as food stamps and other nutrition programs, among other programs.”
Check in here to follow development of the next Farm Bill and to participate in the shape it takes as we advocate for a Food & Farm Bill that supports organic and sustainable agriculture and healthy food for all.
- “The Secret Farm Bill” by Mark Bittman at the New York Times Opinion Pages.
The farm bill is written every five years. Although the current one doesn’t expire until September, the next one may be all but wrapped up by your first bite of turkey, because the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees — a group of four, representing Oklahoma, Michigan, Minnesota and Kansas (do you see a pattern here?) — are working feverishly to draw up a proposal in time to submit it to the supercommittee before the Nov. 23 deadline. (11/8/2011)
- “Food and farm bill benefits everyone” by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) at The Hill’s Congress Blog
- “External Factors that will Drive the Next Farm Bill Debate” by Stephanie Mercier, an Agricultural Policy Consultant that recently retired as Chief Economist of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
- “Top 10 Things You Should Know About The Farm Bill” at the Environmental Working Group’s Agriculture website.
- Blog post at Civil Eats (5/4/11): “Farm Bill 2012: Will the West Coast Set its Own Table?” and read the Seattle Farm Bill Principles (also a link at Civil Eats)
- Watch an 18 minute video where Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group talks about the Farm Bill and farm subsidies.
Farm Bill Updates
5/27/2011: On 5/23 the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee released its draft of the fiscal year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill. On conservation, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) explains that, “If Congress were to pass the Subcommittee’s FY2012 appropriations bill, mandatory conservation programs – those with direct spending levels mandated by the Farm Bill – would take an enormous cut of over $1 billion.”
Aviva Glaser, agriculture policy coordinator for the the National Wildlife Federation said, “These cuts will undermine rural economies, wildlife, and investments in America’s energy future. These radical cuts could not come at a worse time. With increased pressures on working lands to produce food, fuel, and fiber for our nation and the world, Farm Bill conservation programs are needed now more than ever. These programs have demonstrated benefits for soil, water, wildlife, and rural economies.”
Agri-Pulse Online indicates that, “Although most line items were trimmed, crop insurance, the Women’s Infants and Children’s program (WIC), P.L. 480 Title 11 Grants and the Community Facilities loans were targeted for some of the largest reductions compared to the prior fiscal year.”
Chris Clayton noted yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Commodity programs were not affected by the proposed cuts.”
Source: FarmPolicy.com (5/25/2011)
illustration #1 reflects what many local farmers are growing now; illustration #2 reflects the crops supported by subsidies. Source: Organic Consumers Assoc. Organic Bytes #280 (6/9/11)
Charles, the Prince of Wales, speaking at the Washington Post Future of Food Conference in Washington, D.C., touches on the importance of public policy and reminds us why the Farm Bill, which comes up for re-authorization next year, is critical and why all food eaters should be involved in the shaping of the next Farm/Food Bill.
It is the difficulty in making sustainable farming more profitable for producers and sustainable food more affordable for consumers. With so much growing concern about this, my International Sustainability Unit carried out a study into why sustainable food production systems struggle to make a profit, and how it is that intensively produced food costs less. The answer to that last question may seem obvious, but my I.S.U. study reveals a less apparent reason.
It looked at five case studies and discovered two things: firstly, that the system of farm subsidies is geared in such a way that it favours overwhelmingly those kinds of agricultural techniques that are responsible for the many problems I have just outlined. And secondly, that the cost of that damage is not factored into the price of food production. Consider, for example, what happens when pesticides get into the water supply. At the moment, the water has to be cleaned up at enormous cost to consumer water bills; the primary polluter is not charged. Or take the emissions from the manufacture and application of nitrogen fertilizer, which are potent greenhouse gases. They, too, are not costed at source into the equation.
This has led to a situation where farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of the price. There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing but, as things stand, “doing the right thing” is penalised. And so this raises an admittedly difficult question – has the time arrived when a long, hard look is needed at the way public subsidies are generally geared? And should the recalibration of that gearing be considered so that it helps healthier approaches and “techniques”? Could there be benefits if public finance were redirected so that subsidies are linked specifically to farming practices that are more sustainable, less polluting and of wide benefit to the public interest, rather than what many environmental experts have called the curiously “perverse” economic incentive system that too frequently directs food production?
The point, surely, is to achieve a situation where the production of healthier food is rewarded and becomes more affordable and that the Earth’s capital is not so eroded. Nobody wants food prices to go up, but if it is the case that the present low price of intensively produced food in developed countries is actually an illusion, only made possible by transferring the costs of cleaning up pollution or dealing with human health problems onto other agencies, then could correcting these anomalies result in a more beneficial arena where nobody is actually worse off in net terms? It would simply be a more honest form of accounting that may make it more desirable for producers to operate more sustainably–particularly if subsidies were redirected to benefit sustainable systems of production. It is a questions worth considering, and I only ask it because my concern is simply that we seek to produce the healthiest food possible from the healthiest environment possible–for the long term–and to ensure that it is affordable for ordinary consumers.