The following was taken from an update by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). It outlines how the upcoming Farm Bill is shaping up. This is a program, which when passed, will define the direction and emphasis for agriculture in the United States of America for the next 5 years.
For more information visit www.sustainableagriculture.net.
Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: Senate Draft Farm Bill – Local Food and Rural Development Drilldown
April 23rd, 2012
Agricultural policy that bolsters community economic development serves as a cornerstone of NSAC’s advocacy. Within this framework, we support strong Rural Development programs that target small business development and job creation. Similarly, NSAC recognizes the economic opportunities inherent in food produced for local markets and thus urge Congress to address infrastructure and information barriers to fully realizing the potential inherent in this sector of agriculture.
We worked last fall with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) and many other members of Congress to develop the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act.
We are both pleased and disappointed with how the local food bill compares to the Senate’s draft Farm Bill, which makes some steps in the right direction but also missed the mark on vital funding needs as well as no-cost policy tweaks with enormous prospective impact for our economy.
- The Crop Insurance Titles adds a directive to USDA to create a Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management Insurance product for diversified operations, including specialty crops and mixed grain/livestock and dairy operations.
- The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) is renamed the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, thus serving not only direct producer-to-consumer marketing channels but also “scaled up” local food sales to retailers and institutions. The program receives $20 million in annual mandatory funding, double the current level in light of the new expanded program purpose. The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act calls for $30 million a year, a level we will continue to advocate for.
- Funding for Community Food Projects receives an increase of $5 million a year for the next 5 years, above its permanent funding of $5 million a year.
- Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), which provides research-based information on sustainable agriculture, remains intact with $5 million in annual discretionary funding.
- Funding for national organic certification cost-share fares well. Click here to read our analysis of organic agriculture in the bill.
- The bill establishes a pilot program for mobile technology to accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (SNAP or food stamp dollars) at farmers markets and other direct marketing outlets, however the pilot does not include the development of technology that can accept other nutrition assistance program benefits, which would further expand access to fresh, local foods for low-income Americans. Additionally, the bill does not level the playing field between wireless and wired vendors, thus furthering the divide between SNAP redemption at farmers markets and traditional grocery stores.
- The Rural Development Title’s Business and Industry Direct and Guaranteed Loans includes the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act provision for publishing information on and outreach for the program’s set-aside for Local and Regional Food Enterprises loans. However, none of the proposed food enterprise program improvements were included in the draft bill. We hope this will be rectified in markup this week and as the farm bill process continues.
- The Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG) and Rural Business opportunity Grants (RBOG) are combined into a single program called Rural Business Development Grants. NSAC advocates for authority for developing local food enterprises in these programs and in the Community Facilities (CF) program, though none of these no-cost policy changes are included. We hope these will be added as the bill moves forward.
- Most of the needed policy changes to the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program are included in the draft bill, which is good news. However, the program receives no mandatory funding, a disappointing loss after the 2008 Farm Bill funded the program. Hopefully funding will be added as the Senate considers the new farm bill.
- The Horticulture Title creates a study on local food production and program evaluation, which is critically important. Unfortunately, the study receives no mandatory funding.
- The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) receives a mandatory funding increase from $55 million to $70 million per year, however none of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act’s no-cost local food policy asks were included. In particular, we support an allocation of program funding for locally marketed specialty crops.
- Organic crop insurance does not fare well at all. Click here to read our analysis of organic agriculture in the bill.
- The bill leaves out several no-cost policy provisions to expand Farm to School, which benefit both American schoolchildren and our nation’s agricultural producers by ensuring more local foods are served in cafeterias.
- The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, already receiving less funding that there is demand, does not receive an increase in its mandatory allocation.
- The Credit Title does not address the specific needs nor enhance lending opportunities for producers selling in local and regional markets.
- No funding was provided for the Rural Development Title. NSAC advocates for a Rural Community Prosperity Fund with mandatory funding to drive economic growth in rural communities.
- Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) receives no mandatory funding, despite the program’s proven track record of creating jobs and stimulating the economy. Click here to read about VAPG and beginning farmers and ranchers.
- The bill does not include a proposal called “Local and Regional Food Enterprise Facilitation,” which would authorize Extension to provide training and technical assistance in the neediest parts of the country in order to develop economically-viable local food businesses.
- The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is untouched in the bill, thus leaving out chances to shore up research on local food. Click here to read more about research in the bill.