A Common Good Farm Bill

Protecting the Integrity of People, Communities & the Land in U.S. Farm Policy

Farmers and rural communities are in a dilemma. Family farmers and ranchers are facing greater economic pressures, yet public funds tend to flow toward large landholders and corporate interests. Land, resources and profits are consolidated into the hands of a few while rural communities continue to suffer. Has American agriculture become alienated from the values of community and stewardship?

Family farmers who produce an abundance of nutritious foods, maintain vibrant rural communities, and serve as stewards of the land need faith-based support. These types of farmers and ranchers believe agriculture is a calling: a vocation that humbly expresses Church teachings to care for one another and for God’s creation.

The U.S. Congress is currently working on a new Farm Bill, due to be authorized once the current bill (2014-2018) expires at the end of September this year. Federal policies need to change. The U.S. Farm Bill needs to protect the common good.

Our elected officials need to hear this because our nation is experiencing a connected set of crises in our local economies, natural environments and human health. As citizens and people of faith, we call on Congress to honestly deliberate and pass a “common good” Farm Bill that creates economic opportunities for all, protects our nation’s natural resources, and ensures nutritious foods are widely available today and for generations to come.

Some specific programs for a common good Farm Bill include the following:

1) Conservation: Invest in programs that restore, sustain and enhance working lands.

– Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): Fully restore and expand funding.

– Soil Health Enhancement: Increase incentives and support for crop and livestock operations that build soil health.

– Payment Limits: In order to increase CSP program access to more farmers, close loopholes to enforce the $40,000 annual contract payment limit.

2) Risk Management Reform: Promote farm diversity and reward good farming practices.

– Premium Subsidies and Conservation: Require adoption of approved conservation plans for all acres receiving public subsidies via the Crop Insurance program.

– Whole Farm Revenue: Improve, simplify and promote the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program.

– Cut Wasteful Spending: Identify and cut wasteful crop insurance spending. Redirect these public funds to support conservation and beginning farmers. Establish limits on the amount of insurance premium subsidies that mega-farm operations can receive.

3) Next Generation of Farmers: Support and invest in our next generation of farmers and leaders looking to enter agriculture. Nearly 100 million acres are set to transition to new ownership over the next five years.

– Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: Increase funding by $50 million. Maintain priority funding for community-based organizations.

– Loan Access: Reform the Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan process to enable beginning farmers to respond quickly to land sale opportunities.

– Loan Forgiveness: Support adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program in the Higher Education Act. Good farming is a public service.

4 ) Corporate Concentration in the Agriculture & Livestock Sectors: Identify and cut public investment that further strengthens corporate control and the consolidation occurring in the agricultural economy.

– Agribusiness Mergers: Apply and enforce antitrust law via USDA and U.S. Department of Justice to regulate agricultural consolidations that extract wealth from rural economies.

– EQIP Funding: Disqualify factory farms from receiving Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts, or at least significantly lowering amount of funds on EQIP contracts for corporate-controlled CAFO operations.

Agriculture is a vibrant sector of our nation’s economy. Sustainable agriculture can make it so for many more of us, once our elected representatives enact policies that balance the goods of the earth for the good of all.

Farming is a vocation: those who are called to “cultivate and keep the earth” (Gen. 2:15) are in a special relationship with God the Creator, with creation and with all of humanity. Learn more about The Vocation of Agricultural Leader.

Thank you to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Land Stewardship Project for their insights on Farm Bill programs.

Robert Gronski is a Consultant for Catholic Rural Life. He tracks policy perspectives on food, farm, environmental, and rural community issues and helps frame these within the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching.