Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed Chairman Mike Conaway’s (R-TX) draft farm bill along a party line vote. The bill reportedly went through the full committee very quickly and with no substantial debate over the policies put forth in the draft bill. Advocates for a fair and balanced farm bill are calling for greater scrutiny and discussion once the committee draft goes to the House floor for debate and a vote. This is expected to happen by mid-May.
In introducing his draft bill, Chairman Conaway issued a statement:
“Rural America is hurting. Over the last five years, net farm income has been cut in half. Natural disasters and global markets distorted by predatory trade practices of foreign countries, including high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, have resulted in huge production losses and chronically depressed prices that are today jeopardizing the future of America’s farm and ranch families.”
Conaway went on to say that he is “looking forward to quickly moving this farm bill through the House and working with the Senate to deliver a farm bill to the president’s desk that is on time, as the president has asked us to do.” The current farm bill was passed in 2014 and expires at the end of September this year.
Reactions by Family Farm & Sustainable Ag Advocates
Advocates for family farmers and sustainable agriculture are encouraging the public to learn more about the farm bill and get involved in setting the policies for a better food and agricultural system.
The National Farmers Union (NFU), for instance, expressed their gratitude to the House committee for their work to put together a farm bill. But they also encouraged Congress to work together in a bipartisan fashion to advance a stronger farm bill for family farmers in 2018.
NFU President Roger Johnson issued a statement, in part stating that:
“Family farmers deserve to be a priority. They deserve to have a safety net that addresses current economic conditions. They deserve strong programs that help them improve the long-term sustainability of their farms. And they deserve access to fair and diverse markets. The final version of this farm bill must reflect the growing challenges family farmers face.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) was bluntly critical in their assessment:
“The bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee today (April 18) undermines decades of work by farmers and advocates to advance sustainable agriculture and food systems in the U.S. H.R. 2 eliminates critical conservation, local food, business development, and organic agriculture programs that play key roles in keeping the American farm economy strong. (…) Additionally, the bill fails to invest what is truly needed to help the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and places no limits at all on crop insurance subsidies for the wealthiest operations.”
The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Catholic Rural Life (CRL) sent a joint letter to Chairman Conaway, identifying key parts in his draft bill that the Church would like to improve upon.
The letter ends on a call to help those most in need:
“This is a crucial time for our nation to put poor and hungry people first, support small and moderate-sized family farms, promote sustainable stewardship of the land, and help vulnerable farmers and rural communities both at home and in developing countries. We look forward to working with you as you amend the 2018 Farm Bill.”
While the House bill has raised concern, this is only at the beginning of the Farm Bill legislative process. The Senate is also crafting its language for the new Farm Bill. The two bills will go through debates and revisions before they are combined and eventually voted into the law that will govern agriculture and the food program for the next five years.
For more about the House Agriculture Committee’s work on the 2018 Farm Bill, visit their special websection here.
A listing of proposed improvements and revisions to farm programs are found at the National Sustainable Ag. Coalition’s blog site. These are important to promote as we move forward in improving the House farm bill.
—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.