Farm bill legislation is passed every five years and affects the food we eat, the livelihood of family farms, clean water, and healthy soils. The bill deals with issues like healthy food access for low-income families, support for next generation farmers, conservation programs, organic agriculture, and much more.
OEFFA works to make sure this legislation promotes farming practices that contribute to healthy people, prosperous communities, and a clean environment and removes incentives for increased consolidation that works in direct opposition to these goals.
The last farm bill had about a $100 billion per year price tag, with the majority of the funding going to support nutrition programs. The crop insurance program has been the largest agricultural component of the bill.
If you have a member of Congress who sits on one of the agriculture committees, you are in a strong position to advocate for sustainable agriculture. Check out the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the House Committee on Agriculture today and find out if your Congressperson works on food and agriculture issues at the federal level.
Congress moved swiftly at the end of 2018 to pass a new farm bill, which will fund food and agriculture programs for the next five years. OEFFA members fought for many of the programs included in the Agriculture Improvement Act and working with our national partners were able to secure many critical wins that will help to reshape our food and agricultural system over time.
The organic food sector is growing faster than any other in our food economy, yet investments in research and organic certification have not kept pace. OEFFA, in partnership with the National Organic Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, fought hard for increases in funding for organic research. The 2018 Farm Bill includes substantial increases in the lead organic research program, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). Funding for OREI increased from the current $20 million to $50 million by the end of the 2018 Farm Bill. Achieving the $50 million threshold means organic research will now continue to be a permanent part of all farm bills going forward.
Imported organic grain fraud was also addressed in the new farm bill. OEFFA members led the alert about questionable organic grains being imported into the United States. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), imports of organic corn increased from more than $36 million in 2016 to $160.4 million in 2016, and between 2011 and 2016 soybean imports went from almost $42 million to more than $250 million. Investigations over the past several years have found a large percentage of imported grain from Eastern Bloc countries was, in fact, fraudulent. Due in no small part to the advocacy of OEFFA’s organic grain growers, the new farm bill includes more financial resources and increased authority for the USDA National Organic Program to crack down on these fraudulent operations.
A partial win is the continuation of the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. This program is very important so that yearly certification costs are affordable for organic family farms and recognizes that these farmers provide healthful foods, protect clean water, and promote soil health. The 2018 Farm Bill reduced funding for cost-share from almost $58 million over the life of the farm bill to $24 million. While this is partially offset by a carryover of unused funds, the program may run short before the current farm bill expires.
Local and Regional Foods
Resources for farmers, farmers’ markets, regional food entrepreneurs, and local and regional communities are now a permanent part of the farm bill. Senator Sherrod Brown championed the Local FARMS Act, which included funding for several local food programs. That act—now renamed the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP)—combines the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program with the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, and it creates a new public-private partnership program for collaborative and regional work on comprehensive food system planning and development. LAMP will also provide resources for producers looking to offset costs of third-party audits or infrastructure updates needed for compliance with the Food SafetyModernization Act.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program, which provides incentives for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets and retail outlets, is reauthorized and will also achieve permanent baseline funding status. Some of this funding is also allocated to a produce prescription program where doctors provide patients with innovative fruit and vegetable prescriptions.
A new emphasis and funding is dedicated to “Urban, Indoor, and Other Emerging Agricultural Production Research, Education, and Extension.” This will include a competitive grants program with $10 million in mandatory funding, a new USDA office, a 15-member advisory committee with granting authority, ten pilot urban and suburban county committees, and a community compost and reducing food waste pilot project.
Next Generation Farmers and Conservation
None of us has real food security if we don’t have the next generation of farmers in place to grow our food. Providing support to beginning farmers is an OEFFA priority where we saw real wins in the farm bill, including permanent mandatory funding for the Farming Opportunity Training and Outreach (FOTO) program.
FOTO combines the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program with the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher Program, and it provides $435 million in mandatory funding over the next 10 years. This combined program prioritizes food safety and succession planning, ensures that all beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers enrolling in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) have the option to receive 50 percent of their cost-share payment up front, creates a National Beginning Farmer Coordinator position at the USDA, and provides for coordinators for each state in the country. Also, the funding cap for farm ownership loans through the Farm Service Agency has been increased from $300,000 to $600,000.
We fought hard against a cut to conservation funding and there were no overall cuts to conservation programs. Increased payments for cover crops, resource conserving crop rotations, and advanced grazing management within the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) will now be available. In fact, the program now includes an organic allocation and authorizes payments for comprehensive conservation planning. While there has been an organic initiative within the EQIP, funding caps for organic producers were significantly lower than those for conventional farmers. Although the farm bill does not create funding parity for all farmers, the cap for organic farmers was raised significantly to $140,000 over four years.
A critical part of our food security also means that we have farmland available on which to grow food. The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) provides funding to farmers that give up the development rights on their land to ensure it can be farmed in perpetuity. Funding for ACEP is increased to $450 million per year and prioritizes projects that include farm affordability protections and that maintain farm viability.
Unfortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill does nothing to reform funding to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and, over the long term, cuts funding for CSP.
Crop Insurance and Payment Limits
We saw a mixed bag of wins and losses for crop insurance and payment limitation reform. Importantly, the type of crop insurance that is most applicable to diverse producers—the Whole Farm Revenue Program—expands eligibility for a ten percent premium bonus to all beginning farmers (in business less than ten years), and it is directed to reduce the burden to farmers by reviewing the paperwork involved. The Risk Management Agency (RMA), charged with implementing USDA crop insurance, will now create a new Local Food Policy and the Noninsured Crop Assistance Program includes permanent buy up coverage and will offer a streamlined policy for small diversified operations.
OEFFA advocated that the RMA, when administering the crop insurance program, should accept Natural Resources Conservation Services best management practices as “Good Farming Practices.” While they did make some improvements to allow farmers to use cover crops without fear of losing crop insurance, they fell far short of needed reform in this area.
The worst provisions in the new farm bill are broadening of payment limitation loopholes as cousins, nieces, and nephews are also eligible to receive up to $125,000 per year, effectively allowing megafarms to continue collecting unlimited payments. Also, no payment limits or adjusted gross income provisions were included for crop insurance premium subsidies.