Every 4-6 years Congress is charged with passing a massive piece of legislation called the Farm Bill. It is second in size only to the Defense Bill. Passing this legislation has been the standard work plan for Congress since the Depression in the 1930’s when it was enacted to help farmers and ranchers maintain their land and prosperity.
The last Farm Bill passed in May 2008 and it authorized over $289 billion dollars of federal spending over 5 years. That’s a chunk of federal change! It was divided into 15 “titles” or categories. The lion’s share (97%) of the total funded only four titles: Nutrition or “SNAP” (also known as Food Stamps), Farm Commodity support, Crop Insurance and Conservation Programs. Many believe The Farm Bill should really be re-named the “Food Bill”!
In September the 2008 Farm Bill expired leaving a vast gap in many programs affecting rural America. Specifically there is zero funding for many organic programs such as the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, and Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives, as well as export development programs. All grants, loans, and research projects funded by these programs are on hold until the Farm Bill is extended or reauthorized. This is bad news for organic farmers and even worse news for those farmers affected by last summer’s drought.
The failure to complete this extremely important work was mostly the result of the House Republican leadership being unwilling to bring a bill to their floor in advance of the election. Typically both the House and Senate come up with different versions of the bill and then come together to mark up one final version. The Senate produced their version of a Farm Bill earlier in the year but it completely stalled in the House. So election political posturing became the focus rather than getting the job done. The future of the bill is in limbo… Let’s consider it a “farm cliff” we have already gone over.
How is it that our elected officials can get away with political posturing rather than doing the job they were elected to do? It’s my belief we should hold each and every Congressional member accountable to represent us and complete the tasks at hand.
If food and farms are important to you get involved! Stay informed on what is happening with this important bill by subscribing to the list serve firstname.lastname@example.org. Monitor your elected Congressional leaders on their job performance. Don’t be shy in communicating what you want them to do. You are the constituency that elected them into office and your voice is important to them. Let’s not let another year go buy when we have to ask “What’s up Congress?”