SAC 2012 Workshop - Federal Sustainable Agriculture Policy Efforts
by Jacqueline Venner Senske, conference blogger
Generally speaking, the Farm Bill is kind of a hot mess.
This legislation shapes agriculture in this country. It determines what farmers grow and what support they get and generally underpins everything about food production and consumption.
That said, much good comes out of it. And without it, we lose ground on the battles that have helped to advance sustainable agriculture in recent years. And it does some really good things, like providing funding to staff and researchers at places like the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.
Think You Know the Farm Bill?
Sarah Hackney is the Grassroots Coordinator at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and her presentation and demeanor were accessible and open yet savvy. She had us take a quick quiz. Read what’s below, but don’t scroll down to peek until you’ve done the exercise.
Rank these components of the Farm Bill from biggest to smallest.
- Conservation Programs
- Crop Insurance Subsidies
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Commodity Subsidies (direct payments)
- SNAP: $775 billion
- Crop Insurance Subsidies: $90 billion
- Commodity Subsidies: $67 billion
- Conservation Programs: $65 billion
A couple of things surprised me here. First, SNAP is not only the biggest component of the Farm Bill; it’s the biggest by a HUGE amount. Second, funding for Conservation Programs is nearly on par with Commodity Subsidies, which is good. Ms. Hackney noted that many think the reason this year’s nationwide drought didn’t turn into a Dust Bowl is the conservation programs put in place over the last 50 years.
The Situation Now
It’s time for a new Farm Bill. Congress allowed the 2008 version to expire September 30 without putting a new one in place. The Senate passed its version, but the House’s version is stalled in committee. And Congress is on break through the election. When they return, it will be for a lame duck session lasting just a few weeks. To pass the Farm Bill by yearend, it has to get out of committee, passed in the House, reconciled with the Senate version, and then approved by both branches. Possible, but unlikely.
What’s more likely in the current political context – one characterized by polarization, brinksmanship and a lock of bipartisanship and in which the Fiscal Cliff must also be addressed before the end of the year – is that the House and the Senate pass a continuing resolution to maintain the status quo.
A third option is doing nothing. If neither this Bill nor a continuing resolution is passed before year end, come January 1, funding for many programs (especially ones that advance sustainable agriculture) ends, and all federal farm policy reverts to 1949 policy. Talk about a hot mess.
So what’s to be done?
Call your representatives. Read more about the Farm Bill on NSAC online. Talk about the Farm Bill to everyone you know. Call your representatives. Learn more about the Farm Bill. Tell your story, if you’re a farmer or food producer – through media, to organizations like CSFA, to anyone who will listen. Call your representatives. Sign this petition. And did I mention to call your representatives? Government representatives WANT TO HEAR FROM THEIR CONSTITUENTS. A call gives them a story they can connect to and a relatable cause they can champion. It provides them the best, most concrete information about the direction and actions they should pursue. And it makes your voice heard.
So speak up.