Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

We need a good Farm Bill — now

Last month, the House passed a Farm Bill stripped of the program that provides assistance for those who can't afford food. But this country needs a fair food and farm policy, for everyone. And we need it now.

As legislators are wrestling with how to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill, PAN joins more than 300 organizations around the country calling on Congress to pass a full and fair Farm Bill — before the old one expires on September 30.

The letter to Congress urges both houses to work out a full and fair Farm Bill right away. The bill should include all titles including the food stamp program called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which the House removed from the Farm Bill it passed. It should include full funding for conservation programs, and important commodity and crop insurance reforms that are fiscally responsible and help farmers produce the food that feeds us.

The groups signing the letter all pledge to work with Congress to secure passage of a Farm Bill that restores robust funding for programs that support:

  • fruit and vegetable production and organic farmers and ranchers; and
  • farmers markets, healthy food access, and community food and urban agriculture projects;
  • beginning, socially disadvantaged, tribal, women and veteran farmers;
  • rural economic development and job creation, including renewable energy projects.

Finally, the letter strongly urges that the final legislation include provisions that the House stripped out of the bill it passed, requiring Congress to update and modify the Farm Bill on a regular five-year basis. This allows Congress to appropriately respond to inevitable changes (challenges and opportunities) in our food and farm systems.

We need a fair Food and Farm Bill, and we need it now.

Representatives from both the House and Senate need to sit down together next month and reconcile the bad House version, that eliminated the essential food stamps program, and the Senate version, that retains food stamps.

Every five years

I was grateful to find this National Journal article that helped clarify the history and purpose of the Farm Bill — what’s all the talk about going back to the 1949 law if Congress fails to pass a new bill?

In 1938, Congress passed an Agricultural Adjustment Act that incorporated the sections of a 1933 law that were unaffected by a Court ruling that had disallowed Depression-era production controls. It included the 1936 conservation law and new commodity legislation that met the Court's standards. Portions of the 1938 AAA remain law, but in 1949 Congress passed a major new law that included high, fixed-support prices that would trigger subsidy payments when market prices fell below certain levels. The goal was to achieve parity between farm and nonfarm prices and incomes.

Since then, whenever Congress has passed new farm legislation affecting commodities and dairy products, it has suspended the commodity title of the 1938 and 1949 laws for specific periods of time rather than simply amending a section of the 1938 or 1949 laws or passing new legislation and making it permanent.

And that’s what we’ve continued to do every five or so years. One good thing about this process is that agriculture policy can respond to needs and opportunities as they arise. That’s really important since food production is itself dependent on so many changing variables: land and water availability, soil and water quality, climate, crop and breed development, changes in occurrence and severity of pests and diseases, recognition of our impact on and dependence on pollinators and other ecosystem services.

The Food Stamp Act—now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP—started in 1964 and was incorporated into the farm bill in 1977, so it too expires with each Farm Bill. The recent House-passed farm bill eliminates SNAP altogether, promising to take it up separately. This is a recipe for disaster, as many organizations and individuals across the country as well as the majority of the Senate agree.

The last time we passed a Farm Bill was in 2008, and that legislation is set to expire on September 30.

What’s next?

The House and Senate leadership is apparently working behind the scenes to identify which Senators and Representatives will come together in conference before September 30 to reconcile the two Farm Bill proposals. Not much is likley happen with Congress in recess during August, but with time running short Congress needs to get in gear in September.

Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN

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