After the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill draft was released on Thursday April 12th, food and farming justice advocates immediately began speaking out in intense opposition for the majority of the bill’s components. Soon after, on Wednesday April 18th, the House Agriculture Committee met during markup, a process in which the bill is discussed, debated, and amended by the members of the committee. Unsurprisingly, there was nearly unanimous opposition expressed in response to the heavily partisan nature of the bill. This house draft of the bill, to be titled the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, undermines the wellbeing of so many Americans who rely on the ability of the committee to create a favorable bill for all.
Collin Peterson, Minnesota’s ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, began the full committee hearing on Wednesday at the hill with his opposition for the bill, setting the stage for many others to comfortably express their frustrations soon after. “A safety net for those who produce our food, and those who need help purchasing it, remains the most important work of this committee. I’m afraid that this bill poisons that”, he declared to the members as he commenced his speech. Major concerns of Peterson that he reflected to the committee include the changes to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). He also admonished the lack of baseline funding for the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, the lack of funding for citrus greening research, and the consolidation of Title 2 (The Conservation Title).
Proposed changes to SNAP funding would affect millions of the most vulnerable individuals who depend on the program, such as the disadvantaged, senior, and veteran Americans. Under the newly proposed provisions, nearly all individuals from the ages of 18 to 59 would be mandated to either participate in a weekly 20 hour workforce training or work part time in order to receive SNAP benefits. This provision would allocate an estimated $1 billion of farm bill spending annually to the workforce program alone. Currently, the farm bill allocates approximately 80% of it’s spending to the Nutrition Title, $70 billion in the last fiscal year alone, and serves 42 million Americans in need of food assistance. After a total of 23 hearings on SNAP, many are left disappointed by the result and believe that these changes would transition SNAP from a welfare program into a workforce program, straying from the underlying goal of nutrition assistance.
Another major change purported as beneficial comes from within title 2, Conservation. The House Agriculture Committee farm bill draft seeks to combine two of the most comprehensive conservation programs, by folding the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), but not without eradicating essential funding and necessary program components. This consolidation would provide a ‘ceiling’ on funding for CSP rather than a floor, allowing 25% or more of funding to be cut over a five year time span, decreasing the current $8.8 billion received under the 2014 farm bill. The consolidation of these programs fails to account for the different goals of the programs. EQIP is more of an on ramp for conservation efforts, while CSP helps foster advanced conservation efforts. These changes also fail to include some of the best components of the current Conservation Stewardship Program, such as payments for advanced conservation efforts and supplemental payments for diversification. Additionally, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS) would become eligible for these stewardship contracts. Although they carry very different weights within the farm bill, both the Nutrition and Conservation titles are indispensable components that should not be changed in such a way that infringes upon their past successes.
The draft completely eliminates funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Value-Added Producer Grants Program, Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program, and more. Many of these smaller pieces of the larger puzzle that make up the farm bill play significant roles within the bill, namely for rural farmers, local food security, and organic producers. The bill also fails to make any favorable changes that would expand opportunities for organic farmers within the Crop Insurance Title or the EQIP Organic Initiative. Despite reauthorizing the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, which provides resources and technical training to new producers, the draft does not permanently reauthorize the program, nor does it allocate more funding for the program. The sustainability of American agriculture depends upon the ability of policy makers to create a farm bill that reflects both the goals that the farm bill was originally built upon as well as the values of current and future farmers.
The first Farm Bill was created in 1993 under Roosevelt’s New Deal Legislation, with three overarching goals in mind: Fair food prices, adequate food for all, and to protect and sustain our country’s natural resources. Disappointingly, this draft in its current state is far from reflecting these once-envisioned values. Though the path to the 2018 Farm Bill has become more uncertain due to preceding events, the steadfast sentiments of the House Agriculture Committee members and Americans who have a great stake in the bill are being heard. The path thus far has been less than smooth, and the future of the Agricultural Act of 2018 depends on committee members to not only hear out the concerns of each other, but those who this bill will impact the most.
Please note: this post was written as the House Ag Committee was voting on the bill. Please visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for breaking news on the 2018 Farm Bill.
—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