Farm Bill Delivers Victories, Climate Change & Conservation Concerns Remain

Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 2018 by Amy Winzer
sprouts in field agriculture sustainable

This is reposted from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, of which CalCAN is a member. NSAC’s blog offers a host of updates about the 2018 Farm Bill, including “drilldowns” on conservation, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and organic agriculture.

Concerns remain over long-term loss in conservation funding, failure to close farm safety net loopholes

Washington, DC, December 11, 2018 – After two months of negotiations, the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee leaders yesterday released a final bill that makes long-overdue investments in the future of American agriculture. If passed and signed into law by President Trump, the bill will better connect beginning and socially disadvantaged producers with the tools and resources they need to start and sustain vibrant food and farm businesses. It would also help both established and beginning farmers to tap growing markets by providing permanent, mandatory funding for local and regional food production and organic research.

“By providing key ‘tiny but mighty’ farm bill programs with permanent funding, the 2018 Farm Bill will make a critical investment in the future of American agriculture,” said Juli Obudzinski, Interim Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “No longer will the family farmers who rely on these programs to start or grow their small businesses, or the food and farm organizations who provide direct training and outreach services, have to worry about the fate of these vital resources each farm bill cycle.”

The bill provides permanent, baseline funding and also makes significant policy improvements to the following tiny but mighty farm bill programs: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as “Section 2501”), Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP). The final farm bill combines BFRDP and Section 2501 into the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, and merges VAPG and FMLFPP into the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).

NSAC actively endorsed both FOTO and LAMP, and has for years advocated that Congress shore up these programs by providing permanent baseline funding so that legislative delays don’t result in funding or support gaps for America’s family farmers and farm organizations.

“The final deal addresses a growing need to scale up our nation’s farm-to-fork initiatives, invest in healthy food, support the next generation of farmers and other underserved producers, and continue making strides in organic agriculture research,” said Obudzinski. “We thank the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees for providing much needed stability and reliability through these permanent investments.”

The final bill also rejects the House’s efforts to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and preserves current funding across the conservation title. The conference report also makes important policy improvements to encourage cover cropping, resource-conserving crop rotation, and advanced grazing systems.

“We are glad to see that the conference report retains CSP’s structure as a unique and independent program, and believe these reforms send a strong message to USDA to focus funding on the most impactful conservation activities to address our most pressing environmental challenges,” said Obudzinski. “We also applaud conferees for boosting conservation easement funding and for ensuring that the Conservation Reserve Program includes the new Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative to support conservation buffers to benefit water quality.”

Despite these historic victories and investments, the final bill contains serious shortcomings. Overall, the bill fails to address some of most significant challenges facing American agriculture and rural communities – food and farm business consolidation, dwindling rural populations and resources, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. In some cases, the bill not only fails to move the needle forward, it actively takes steps backward by failing to restore funding cuts to conservation programs or close widening loopholes in our commodity subsidy and crop insurance programs.

Over the next ten years, the 2018 Farm Bill will cut billions in funding for performance-based conservation through CSP. By failing to restore the $6 billion cut to conservation funds made in the 2014 Farm Bill, the only way to provide for other necessary increases within the Conservation Title – given limited available funds – was to cut funding from working lands conservation. That cut may start out small, but for the next farm bill in 2023, it amounts to a $5 billion reduction in combined budget authority for CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“The final bill will ultimately shortchange working lands conservation by stripping billions in conservation support to farmers through programs like CSP,” said Obudzinski. “We are disheartened to see that this farm bill further reduces CSP funding at a time when farmers are increasingly struggling to deal with extreme weather and other climate change-related challenges.”

NSAC is also deeply disappointed over the bill’s inaction on crop insurance and commodity subsidy reform and failure to address issues like low farm income or farm consolidation. Instead of making much-needed reforms to the nation’s farm safety net programs, the final 2018 Farm Bill expands existing loopholes – the result of which will be million dollar per year subsidies for the wealthiest mega-farms and payments for nieces, nephews, and cousins who may never have even seen a farm let alone actively work on one.

“It is a sad day when bipartisan reforms are ripped out of the final farm bill and replaced by giveaways for the one percent,” said Obudzinski. “Given that the Senate-passed farm bill contained broadly supported farm safety net reforms, it is beyond disappointing to see the hyper-partisan language and subsidy handouts of the House-passed bill win the day. We thank Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) for leading this effort in the Senate and are committed to continuing to pursue these reforms going forward.”

With the farm bill finish line finally in sight, NSAC will now be assessing next steps with our over 120 member organizations. We look forward to continuing our work to advance sustainable farm and food policy throughout the rest of the farm bill process.

Top photo credit: CAFNR Flickr
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