Farmland Conservation, Rural Development, and Fair Markets

By Robert Gronski on August 12, 2013


In our recent blog postings and bulletins, we expressed critical concerns about the cutting of Nutrition programs, namely food stamps, from the Farm Bill. The House-passed bill does not have a Nutrition title at all, so it is unclear how Congress will be able to reconcile the Senate version (with food stamps) with the House version.

This is somewhat of a mute point at the moment, because no conference committee is underway while members of Congress are on their annual August recess.

As our Catholic Rural Life network knows, we are encouraging everyone to get in touch with their Representatives while in they are in their home districts and ask them — indeed, adamantly urge them — to put Nutrition programs back in the Farm Bill. And just as important is to do so at appropriate funding levels: we must counter House leadership’s efforts to make deep cuts in the food stamp program.

But besides Nutrition programs, this week’s blog post is really meant to highlight other important programs that Catholic Rural Life is strongly advocating in the new Farm Bill. Without reauthorization this year, which seems possible given House members’ obstructions, the following program areas will not be funded:

Conservation Programs

Catholic Rural Life partners with farm and conservation organizations to urge the Senate and House chambers to begin farm bill conference negotiations as soon as possible.  We do so to fight for Conservation funding: we want our elected officials to find ways to reduce or eliminate cuts to conservation programs in the final version of the Farm Bill.

Beyond conservation funding, the groups are clear about policy priorities that they argue must be included in a final Farm Bill. One of these is making sure that conservation compliance is attached to federal crop insurance subsidies, or in other words, no government payments to farmers without proven conservation practices.

Read more about these advocacy efforts at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Rural Development

Catholic Rural Life is an active player in the Campaign for a Renewed Rural Development, and so we join with many others who are calling on Congress to find additional money to invest in rural development programs. Farm bill funding for rural programs is considerably less in current versions of the Senate and House bills than it has been in last couple of farm bills.

The Campaign specifically supports maximum funding for two long-time priority programs: Value-Added Producer Grants and Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance. Learn more about these programs and other priorities at the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Click here for more about the Campaign for a Renewed Rural Development.

Fair Markets and Contracts

Catholic Rural Life joined 68 other national and state farm and rural organizations in a letter urging Agriculture Committee leaders and conferees to reject a section of the House-passed farm bill that undermines USDA authority to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act.

The radical, far-reaching House provision would in essence turn the Packers and Stockyards Act into an empty shell, restricting USDA from doing almost anything to address deceptive, retaliatory, and anti-competitive practices by the highly concentrated meatpacking and poultry processing sectors. The letter urges the farm bill conferees to “allow farmers and ranchers to prosper in a business environment based on mutual cooperation and fair business standards, not fear, coercion and retaliation.”

Click here for more about Fair Markets and Commodity Program reforms.

Read more about the Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform.

Next Steps

It remains to be seen if a Farm Bill conference will take place in September when members of Congress return to Washington, DC. While the Senate has named its conferees and is ready to conference, the House majority has decided to try to pass a partisan food stamp program bill with deep funding cuts, delaying any hope for a conference to begin quickly. It would also likely doom the chances for a new farm bill this year.

That is why we continue to encourage our network members to reach out to members of Congress. Email them, call them or show up at townhall meetings. Urge them to support the programs highlighted above – and complete a Farm Bill this year!

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