GroundTruth Blog

Dear Congress, we the people want a Farm Bill

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by Margaret Reeves

The Farm Bill expired on Monday (here's a roundup of what that means). So while we still have no Farm Bill, I'm here to tell you that Congress is feeling the heat. From all around the country — from farmers and mothers, environmentalists and faith communities — people are calling on Congress to pass a Farm Bill this year. While it won’t happen before the November elections it can happen during the short lame duck session that follows.

To get a Farm Bill this year we’ll need all hands on deck to push for a bill that fully funds programs for beginning farmers, local food, organic agriculture, and rural jobs; and one that keeps funding for critical conservation programs that protect our natural resources and promote healthy soil, air, and water.   

We can get a bill, say Agriculture Committee leads

On September 12 hundreds of people from across the country, including farmers, members of Congress and other leaders from agriculture, conservation, energy, consumer and nutrition organizations, rallied in Washington, D.C. for passage of a new, five-year Farm Bill.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson of Minnesota was listening. Peterson called the rally a "good starting point" but made it clear that what is needed are the 100-200 calls from people in every district. "If you don't do that, we're not going to get a Farm Bill." Peterson added, "get out there and get this grassroots thing going." Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan reiterated that point adding that there's no reason the bill can't be passed, but members have to "want to get it done." Stabenow added that there has to be "political will" to move the bill to its final stages and “that's all it's about right now.”

‘Farm Bill Now’ support from around the country

Earlier this month California Farm Bureau Federation representatives joined other Californians and leaders of the American Farm Bureau and other state Farm Bureaus in the "Farm Bill Now" rally in Washington, D.C. Here at home, the Farm Bill Caucus (our 11 member workgroup of sustainable agriculture organizations) continues to urge legislators around the state to push for a Farm Bill with emphasis on funding conservation programs, organic farming, local food systems and the future generation of farmers. We're especially happy with the support from Representatives Sam Farr of Santa Cruz and Jim Costa of Fresno for joining the bipartisan effort to urge reauthorization of the organic programs that serve a large and growing number of consumers, farmers and farm communities across the country providing healthy food, protecting vital air, water, soil and pollinator resources, and generating more jobs per area than farming that depends on the use of polluting fertilizers and hazardous pesticides.

And here are just a few of the MANY who are working tirelessly to pass a 2012 Farm Bill.

The North Carolina Farm Bureau and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association both say pass a Farm Bill now; with the latter adding, “Don’t walk away from America’s farmers and ranchers.”

In Minnesota, where over half of all the land is in agriculture, groups oppose deficit-driven cuts to the federal budget that threaten sound and successful investment in soil, water, and wildlife habitat conservation. The Minnesota Environmental Action Network prioritizes the protection of natural resources through strong investment in Farm Bill conservation programs and urges reform of the subsidized crop insurance program so that tax dollars go to producers who meet basic thresholds of care for soil and water. We couldn’t agree more.

Iowa farmers and Congressional leaders alike are pressuring Republicans for a Farm Bill this year. Recently, Iowa Representative Bruce Braley even headed a bold, albeit unsuccessful, effort to force a Farm Bill vote.

And Farm Bill support reaches far outside the farm and environment sectors to include, among the many, faith communities, moms, and organic "foodies" with their "5 Things Every American Should Know About the Farm Bill (and Why You Should Care)."

The 2012 Drought: Why we need conservation NOW

Although farmers throughout the country suffered terrible losses this year to the worst drought in decades, it could have been a lot worse. Hard to imagine, yes, but remember the stories of the infamous Dust Bowl. That massive disaster was the result of a drought much like the one we saw this year together with poor land management practices that failed to protect soil resources.

The 2012 drought was less disastrous than it might have been because farming practices are better now — largely due to the conservation practices promoted and supported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS began as the Soil Conservation Service in 1935 at the height of the Dust Bowl precisely to address "the wastage of soil and moisture resources on farm, grazing, and forest lands….”

NRCS president Gene Schmidt recently commented that the passage of a Farm Bill could not be more critical. Schmidt explained, "strong, locally-led conservation planning — as supported by Farm Bill Conservation Programs — is our best defense in minimizing the impacts of drought and other extreme weather events." Schmidt also explained that the Farm Bill includes emergency provisions that budget for future disasters — instead of relying on short-term, reactive legislation, like the recently-passed emergency drought bill.

And can you iamagine, the Farm Bill conservation programs that helped save us from another dust bowl are on the Congressional chopping block. Just a few days ago the Senate agreed to vote on a six-month continuing resolution to keep the government funded at FY 2012 levels through March 27, 2013. Farm bill mandatory conservation programs in general, and the Conservation Stewardship Program in particular, would be hit very hard. 

Please join me, friends, neighbors and colleagues at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to: (1) push hard for a Farm Bill now, and (2) urge your Representatives to include funding for conservation programs in any extension.

Margaret Reeves's blog

is PAN's Senior Scientist. Follow @MargaretatPAN

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