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~Race to the 2018 Farm Bill~

Members of the House Committee on Agriculture as well as members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry are being hard pressed on issues surrounding food and farming as the 2014 Farm Bill’s run comes to an end. Legislators play a pivotal role in translating the needs and concerns of farmers, ranchers, consumers and other stakeholders into a breadth of laws that aggregately make up the bill. The president and congressional appropriators also play a superior role in how funds are to be allocated within the Farm Bill, which provides further implications for the fate of the next Farm Bill.

The 2014 Farm Bill, named the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed on February 7th, 2014 and consequently responsible for allocating an estimated five hundred billion dollars over its five-year life time to a myriad of programs and issues within agriculture, from local food access to crop insurance and everything in between. Since 2013, yearly reoccurring cuts have been made to Farm Bill spending, with the exception of the Conservation Reserve Program, crop insurance programs, and nutritional assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This process, called sequestration, puts the remaining non-exempt programs at risk of receiving insufficient funds.

Despite these challenges and others, the 2014 Agricultural Act saw major successes. These include formidable increases in funding for research on organic and specialty crops, as well as improved crop insurance opportunities for organic producers. The bill also increased coordination and accountability between agencies responsible for monitoring the effectivity of programs and policies promoting and researching locally or organically-produced foods. Additionally, it also sourced heavy funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which provides new producers with mentorship and educational resources.

However, the path towards the 2018 Farm Bill has provided a less than smooth ride due to unforeseen obstacles such as natural disasters and controversial issues surrounding immigration that have put government action on halt. Finally, on February 9th 2018, the House and Senate compromised with each other on a budget deal that will not only suffice for government operation in the meantime, but provide a necessary prerequisite for the appropriations processes to come. This is important to keep the trajectory towards reaching a bill going, for many programs will cease to exist as the year’s end draws nearer, due to lack of funding.

Many preexisting components of the Agricultural Act of 2014 require that they receive due attention transitioning into the 2018 Farm Bill in order to ensure adequate funding in the future, as well as address new concerns within them, such as BFRDP. Meanwhile, other issues and new propositions take the spotlight as well. The BFRDP should not only continue to invest in new training and support systems for new farmers, but assist in transitioning farmland to the hands of the next generation.  It is also demanded within the upcoming bill that socially disadvantaged farmers, such as veterans and farmers of color, receive fair support and funding under the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, which was cut in half in the 2014 Bill.  Further concerns on the horizon include conservation reform, such as through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which is also underfunded. . Furthermore, the Organic Certification Cost Share Program, as well as a new Food Safety Certification Cost Share Program, should be present in the upcoming bill to provide economic incentives for farmers following these restrictions that ensure food is grown and processed in a way that is safe for both the environment and consumers. The Local Food and Regional Markets Act (Local FARMS Act), which was proposed in 2017, would not only include a newly proposed Food Safety Certification Cost Share Program, but also a Food Safety Outreach Program, both of which were discussed at the February 2018 congressional food safety briefing. This program would provide training, support, and other resources for farmers looking to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act’s orders.

Source: agriculture.com

Unsettlingly, President Trump’s 2018 fiscal year budget would tarnish the successes of the previous Farm Bill in many ways. He not only seeks to cut funding immensely for indispensable programs under sections such as the Conservation, Nutrition Assistance, Rural Development and Research titles, but also explicitly harm programs such as The Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, among others through his absent request for renewed funding in the upcoming bill. While the aforementioned aggregated issues need to be given sufficient attention, the larger overarching issues of sequestration and harmful appropriations suggested by the president need to be adequately addressed in the upcoming bill through budget reconciliation and congressional appropriations hearings. Ultimately, an investment in our farmers is an investment in the future of everyone.

Now more than ever, time is of the essence for the fate of the 2018 Farm Bill, making it imperative that stakeholders and policy activists work feverishly to urge members of Congress to act sensibly on these issues and others. The impending expiration of the previous bill leaves no room for those writing the bill to act noncommittally towards matters surrounding sustainable agriculture, rural development, food safety, organic research and more if a prosperous farm bill is to be passed. Farmers, consumers, and policy makers must pay heed to the successes and failures of the past while concurrently considering the current obstacles faced if there is hope for a successful farm bill with new victories built upon previous.

To learn more about ongoing and upcoming issues within the 2018 Farm Bill agenda, you can keep up with updates from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition via visiting their website, Facebook, and subscribing to their weekly electronic newsletter updates, The Weekly Roundup. Reaching out to congressmen that sit on the House Agriculture Committee and expressing endorsement for a program is just one way individuals can influence the Farm Bill. The current Florida representatives on the committee are Darren Soto, Al Lawson, Ted Yoho, and Neal Dunn.  If you would like to know more about how individual or organizational action can be taken to influence and support positive reform within the 2018 Farm Bill, visit http://sustainableagriculture.net/take-action/.

Rylee Daddio is a fourth year Sustainability Studies student with a keen interest in organic and sustainable agriculture. She is currently working as a policy intern with Florida Organic Growers to create endorsement for better agricultural legislature in the 2018 Farm Bill

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