You eat, therefore you live. So shouldn’t you know what’s in the current version of the US Farm Bill? If you’re an engaged member of the organic food industry, you should be well acquainted with the Farm Bill and be willing to take action.
Here’s why: we need more federal funding.
The Farm Bill is an “omnibus bill” that addresses many categories related to farming and nutrition. The 2008 Farm Bill authorized $289 Billion in spending, making it the second largest single Congressional expenditure. When it expired last September, it left many organic programs without funding. Read my Blog What’s up Congress to learn more.
Congress has struggled to agree on a Farm Bill since the Depression, when it was initially enacted to help farmers and ranchers maintain their land and prosperity. As the US population gradually moved from rural to urban areas, the shape of the bill also changed. In order to get full Congressional support, the needs of both urban and rural America needed to be addressed.
The Farm Bill is complex and divided up into several “Titles” or sections. Title I, Commodities, is the most often cited and controversial. It authorizes subsidies to farms growing commodity program crops (corn, cotton, wheat, rice and soybeans are heavily favored). Commodities are the second highest funded title in the farm bill at approximately 12% of total spending. Nutrition was introduced as a means to represent the urban sector. In the 2008 Farm Bill, nutritional programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) received the highest level of funding at 68% of the total bill! The urban sector is well represented.
Last week, the Senate passed their version of this five-year Farm Bill by a vote of 66-27. Read this article from Politico to understand more about the substance and politics of the Farm Bill process. The Senate version is virtually unchanged from what was passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee in May. Proposed funding for organics is less than 1% while organics represent 4% of retail purchases. Organic priorities included in the Senate Bill are:
- $16 million in funding for each year of FY 2014-2018 for Organic Research and Extension Initiative-OREI (a cut of 20%)
- $5 million in mandatory funding for each year of FY 2014-2018 for Organic Data Initiatives-ODI
- $15 million in funding for each year of FY 2014-2018 for National Organic Program- NOP
- $5 million one time spend for technology upgrades at the National Organic Program- NOP
- An exemption for organic producers and handlers from conventional research and promotion orders and an authorization for USDA to consider an application for an organic research and promotion program. For more information read my Blog.
This week the House takes up their version of the Farm Bill. Nearly 200 of the 435 House members have never before been part of a Farm Bill debate. Once the House version is passed, the two legislative bodies will come together to conference a final bill. There are many organic priorities not included in the current House version. Battles over agriculture policy and food stamps could wreak havoc with our organic priorities in the milieu. Neither the Senate nor the House provides any funding to support non-GMO seed research. It is unacceptable that most of the federal dollars for seed development support patented GMO varieties that will not be available to organic or other non-GMO farmers. For more information on seeds, read this Blog.
Now that you know a little more about the Farm Bill you may feel moved to get involved. This coming week is an excellent time to begin. Start by reading OTA’s Farm Bill Priorities then contact your Representatives and demand they pass a bill that includes fair and equitable funding for organic agriculture. Stay up to date on Farm Bill news as it occurs at the National Sustainable Ag Coalition website. The future of organic food and farming needs you this week. What will you do?