The farm bill is, for many, an abstract behemoth of federal legislation, something far removed from planning for and working on a farm. But thinking about and engaging in this and other pieces of legislation is critical. A house needs to be built on a firm foundation, and have strong structural supports, good plumbing, and safe electrical systems to stand the test of time.
Similarly, for sustainable, small, and mid-scale family farms to be successful, legislation that provides incentives or disincentives, subsidizes certain practices above others and regulates (or doesn’t regulate) different aspects of farming, is the foundation on which some farmers will be successful, and others will fail.
As a nation, we pride ourselves on the concept of individuality and the success of farmers is often judged on their work ethic, management practices, and the market. But the reality is that there are many factors that can affect the success of an individual farm or a whole class of farming. This is certainly the case when it comes to beginning farmers.
Access to land and credit are often cited as two of the biggest barriers to entry for the next generation. The free market is not concerned about concentration of land and resources in the hands of fewer and fewer farmers but we, as a society, are. These issues are a national security concern. We want a diverse and plentiful food supply that is not jeopardized by the decisions of a relatively few people.
Subsidized insurance, commodity payments, limited recognition of practices that protect the base of agricultural land and environment, and availability of credit are the structural foundation of our collective agricultural house.
These policy decisions are all influenced by farmers, and commodity and special interest groups. Many of those issues are being decided now.
The House and Senate have each passed their respective version of the farm bill and the chart below highlights key policies that relate to beginning farmers in both chambers of Congress:
As you can see, the Senate bill provides more structural support for beginning farmers.
In the next step, representatives from both chambers will come together and try to resolve the differences between these two bills. It will be a heavy lift, due to differing policies on providing food assistance in the nutrition title. They only have until the end of September before the current farm bill expires.
There are still opportunities to share your views with your representative. Contact OEFFA to learn more or get involved.
Photos: That Guy's Family Farm (top, bottom), Honey Blossom Orchard (middle)