Last month we started the Farm Bill Café, reading Dan Imhoff’s Food Fight - The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, reviewing the book, and discussing the new 641-page bill as it travels the long road through Congress.
We learned modern Farm Bills traditionally fund three main areas:
1. Food stamp and nutrition programs, such as the Schools Lunch Program (72 percent of money spent)
2. Income and price supports / subsidies for commodity crops (about 22 percent of budget)
3. Conservation incentives (about 6 percent of budget)
Update: Current Bill on Capital Hill
Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s released its draft farm bill, showing the farm bill can and should remain a bipartisan affair. Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) stand in stark contrast to the House bill, which moved out of committee along completely partisan lines a few weeks ago, and was denounced by many farm and food advocates before it was defeated on the House floor. In the next two weeks, House leadership is expected to try once again to pass its party-line draft of the bill.
The Senate draft bill:
1. Scales up investments for farm-to-fork initiatives. This sounds interesting, do tell more.
2. Takes important steps to improve access to crop insurance for beginning farmers and diversified operations (like vegetables I hope, currently considered specialty crops), to increase data sharing, and to remove insurance-related barriers to conservation practice adoption. I emailed asking for more info about this.
3. Includes a new and innovative program, the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which streamlines and coordinates local and regional food investments to better connect American producers with new buyers and markets. Sounds fab!
4. Alas, but fails in meaningful reforms to tax-payer supported farm subsidy programs that create mega-farms and shutter family farms. This is what I am most interested in learning more about and improving. Impossible to crack from the word on the street.
But never say never.
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) hasn't and thanks to them for this update. Click here to read more. Farm Bill Cafe is teaching me how huge doth-bill is - so many programs - so much terminology and acronyms. It's a a couple boring novels to read and digest; no wonder no one knows anything about it.
So thank god someone is and please support the NSAC effort to unwind Farm Bill Mystery with a tax-deductible donation, because gosh darnit, if they didn’t do it, who else would?
Food Fight - Chapter 4
Now onto the book...
Realizing some of you did not do your homework yet again, you get another chance because we are only reviewing chapter 4 this week. Chapter 5 & 6 are about the history, and we already have enough above to ponder and grok above. We’ll focus on history in July.
Until then, here’s the cliff notes from chapter 4:
Chapter 4: Promises Broken: The Two Lives of Every Farm Bill
The Farm Bill goes through two phases:
Phase #1 Re-authorization of existing bill with new programs and cuts. Authorization signals the beginning, not the end, of the annual appropriations struggle. (We are in this phase with the new bill now).
Phase #2 Appropriations process / funding of programs in the bill. Some funding is mandatory and others discretionary, but all funding is subject to cutting during this process, except for the commodity price supports. Wouldn’t you know it, commodity price supports are the hardest to address, and my main interest because we, the tax-payers, are paying for mass production of food we shouldn’t be eating that much of anyways; i.e. wheat, corn and animals. ARGHHHHH - HOW CAN WE CHANGE THIS??
Farm Bill Terminology at a Glance
Crop Insurance: Taxpayers pay about 60% of crop insurance premiums that cover nearly 80% of insurable acres. This system of risk-free farming is being rapidly expanded. Critics say it encourages expansion of crop production into highly sensitive marginal lands and is just another taxpayer funded income transfer.