At long last we have a Farm Bill. And while it includes much-needed programs that will strengthen local food systems and support smart, healthy farming practices, this legislation is far from perfect.
Eleventh-hour changes — behind closed doors — stripped the bill of some important reforms that had already been agreed upon by both the House and Senate. Now, after a two-and-a-half year process that left too many farmers without a safety net along the way, the House is expected to pass a Farm Bill by noon Wednesday, then send it along to the Senate for approval.
Our partners at the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition (NSAC) are "reluctantly supporting" the bill, highlighting the need to move forward — and the inclusion of some provisions that support sustainable practices and invest in the next generation of farmers.
But NSAC's Policy Director, Ferd Hoefner, highlighted the coalition's deep disappointment with both the outcome and the process:
“At a time of fiscal restraint, growing income inequality, and economic distress in rural communities, it is appalling for the new Farm Bill to continue uncapped, unlimited commodity and crop insurance subsidies for mega-farms. The backroom deal to reverse the reforms backed by a bipartisan majority of both the House and the Senate is an affront to the democratic process.”
The bill also reduces benefits for SNAP (food stamp) recipients, although the cuts aren't as deep as originally proposed.
Protecting soil & water
On the good news side of things, the new law will re-link crop subsidies to land stewardship and conservation practices — a shift strongly supported by PAN throughout the arduous Farm Bill negotiations. As PAN's senior scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves explained in a previous blog:
We know that good stewardship builds diverse agroecosystems that are inherently less risky than conventional systems. Less risk with greater protection of soil and other natural resources? That's where I want my tax dollars to go.
Another bit of good news is that the bill does not include a threatened amendment that would have undermined the Clean Water Act by rolling back protections of waterways from pesticide contamination.
And while NSAC notes that this Farm Bill will cut "billions from the very conservation programs that help farmers address production challenges and protect natural resources and the environment," the law does renew important investments in beginning farmers, organic agriculture, local food systems and healthy food access.
Engagement by PAN supporters across the country over the past two years helped win these "good news" pieces of the Farm Bill, and they will have very real, positive impacts on farms and in communities across the country for years to come. And together, we'll keep on pushing for the real reforms this Congress couldn't quite manage.