Overripe Farm Bill Needs Priority in Congress During Lame Duck Session
Photo courtesy of Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Congress’ lame duck session starting this week. An array of important issues are demanding their attention, including the expired Farm Bill, our nation’s most comprehensive food and farming legislation.
Every five years, Congress is responsible for reauthorizing the Farm Bill, which funds federal nutrition, agricultural commodities, land conservation, rural development and organics programs. This year Congress failed to reauthorize the Farm Bill before it expired on Oct. 1.
While the largest programs, including those for nutrition and commodities, have some continued funding, the expiration effectively halts new enrollment for programs that help drive innovation, support the next generation of farmers, conserve our natural resources and invest in local economic development.
“Congress failed to do its job when it allowed the Farm Bill to expire,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). “It’s time they get down to business and pass an equitable and sustainable Farm Bill—one that addresses rural job creation, training opportunities for beginning farmers, natural resource conservation, and access to healthy, organic food.”
One of the Farm Bill programs at stake is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which invests in beginning farmers by helping them access land, credit and crop insurance; launch and expand new farms and businesses; and receive training, mentoring and education. Although this important program helps to address the problems associated with America’s aging farm population and encourages a new generation of farmers to take the tractor wheel, the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee proposed cutting this program in half.
“Starting a new business is difficult, particularly in agriculture where the owner is subject to so many unpredictable variables that may impact their annual yield, such as a drought or early frost,” said Bailey. “The BFRDP provides meaningful and cost-effective support to these individuals, helping them to jumpstart their businesses by equipping them with knowledge and skills they need to succeed.”
In 2010, the Ohio State University received a three year BFRDP grant that launched the Beginning Entrepreneurs in Agriculture Networks (B.E.A.N.) project, which provides resources and information to young farmers in northeast Ohio. Annually, this project trains and assists approximately 125 aspiring farmers.
"Without the educational resources and opportunities provided by my local Ohio State extension office, I would not have been as successful in the start-up of my small, urban farm," said Linde Collingwood of Collingwood Farm in Solon, Ohio. "Cuts to BRFDP would be a huge loss for northeast Ohio's new and beginning farmers."
In recent years, farmers’ markets in Ohio and across the nation have grown in popularity, benefiting communities by bolstering the local economy, creating jobs and providing increased access to fresh, nutritious food. In 2011, Ohio had more than 260 farmers’ markets, which provide low-cost entry points for small-scale and beginning farmers to direct market their products.
The Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) provides grants to community supported agriculture programs (CSAs), farmers’ markets and farm markets to develop marketing information and business plans, support innovative market ideas and educate consumers. In 2012, six Ohio markets received FMPP funding.
One such market is the Toledo Farmers’ Market, which used FMPP funding to recruit new vendors, help establish and promote an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) recipients, and build relationships with community partners to leverage additional funding and support. As a result, SNAP sales increased from $500 in 2008 to $50,000 in 2011, the market added 1,000 new EBT customers, overall market sales increased by 20 percent and the number of vendors at the market grew by 38 percent.
“Thanks to the FMPP funding, we’ve attracted thousands of new customers, increased sales, and built more economically-sustainable businesses,” said Liz Bergman, a Toledo Farmers’ Market manager. “This year has been the best year yet for the EBT program. Word has spread in the community and we now feed more Lucas County residents in need of healthy food.”
Another example is the Lake-To-River Food Cooperative (L2R), a member-owned cooperative of food producers, processors and institutional and commercial buyers who grow, add value to, market and prepare agricultural products in the Mahoning Valley and throughout northeast Ohio. The FMPP funding received supports their efforts to sell produce to ten local school districts and bring regular farmers’ markets to neighborhoods in Youngstown and Warren.
“With this support, L2R has been able to serve nearly 14,000 school children with fruit and vegetables sourced from farms oftentimes less than 30 minutes from their school,” said Melissa Miller, marketing manager for Lake-to-River Food Cooperative. “Additionally we’ve begun the difficult process of providing quality food by working with retailers in low-income neighborhoods, whose patrons would otherwise have little access to wholesome food.”
The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, another Farm Bill program vital to Ohio’s growing sustainable agriculture sector, reimburses participating organic producers and handlers for 75 percent (up to $750) of their certification fees, making organic certification affordable, and enabling farmers and processors to meet the growing demand for organic food. In 2011, 251 Ohioans utilized cost-share funds, or about 40 percent of the state’s organic operations.
"As a farmer currently enrolled in this program, I have found it quite valuable," said Ron Meyer of Strawberry Hill Farm in Coshocton County. "Organic certification fees are high. The cost-share program helps me continue to provide fresh and safe food, building the health of humans and the environment. Allowing programs like this to wither on the vine defies common sense."
“These examples demonstrate how low cost, effective Farm Bill programs can support Ohio’s family farmers,” said Bailey. “It’s time for Congress to stop kicking the can down the road and pass a Farm Bill this year that makes real reforms, protects conservation programs, and invests in a sustainable future for food and farms in America.”
In addition to funding successful programs, OEFFA is calling on Congress to level the playing field for working farmers in Ohio by eliminating wasteful direct payments, closing loopholes that benefit the wealthiest agribusinesses and putting a cap on farm and crop insurance subsidies.
Visit EcoWatch’s FARM BILL page for more related news on this topic.