Update on Farm Bill: Call for Improvements to House Bill

By Robert Gronski on May 4, 2018

Ethical Food and Agriculture

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive legislative package that governs all aspects of the American food and agriculture system: commodity production, conservation, food assistance, rural development, energy, trade and the list goes on. This omnibus bill comes up for debate every five or so years. With the current farm bill expiring at the end of September, the reauthorization process is well underway with the release of the House Agriculture Committee’s version on April 18.

The full House of Representatives is expected to take up the bill during the week of May 14. The Senate Agriculture Committee is also working on their version. This is a critical time for citizens and interest groups to contact their elected officials in Congress and express their support – or criticism – of Farm Bill policies and programs.

As reported in the last blog update, family farm, sustainable agriculture and church groups expressed their concern about many of the provisions in the House bill. The consensus on the House bill is that it currently lacks sufficient improvements to strengthen “safety nets” for farmers, cuts back nutrition assistance programs for food insecure families, upends conservation programs that improve sustainability, and comes up short on rural development programs for struggling rural communities.

For the Catholic community, our social teachings call us to take into consideration the dignity of the human person, the common good of us all, stewardship of our common home, and solidarity with the poor and vulnerable.

In the light of these faith-based principles, Catholics believe our national government is also called to help secure adequate nutrition for all, support the livelihoods and dignity of family farmers, promote sustainable stewardship of farmland and waterways, supports family farms, and help vulnerable farmers and rural communities both at home and in developing countries.

Collaboration efforts among the Church, family farm and sustainable agriculture groups are calling for the following improvements to the Farm Bill:

Nutrition Programs:

Maintain funding levels for consumer benefits to low-income individuals and families.

Agricultural Commodity Programs:

– Set subsidy limits to prevent excessive payments going to a single farm operation; ensure sufficient support for small and moderate-size farms.
– Target beginning farmers, socially-disadvantaged farmers and veterans.
– Require and ensure conservation compliance as part of subsidy programs.
– Increase Price Loss Coverage (PLC) reference prices to improve the farm safety net and offset potential trade retaliation.
– Provide dairy farmers with enhanced price supports and a mechanism that manages our nation’s milk inventories to meet market demand.

Conservation Programs:

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are very popular because they provide producers with the tools and resources they need to be effective stewards of the land. However, many qualified applicants have been turned away due to lack of funds. Instead of increasing support for these crucial programs, the House bill cuts the conservation title by nearly $1 billion and cuts funding for working lands conservation programs by nearly $5 billion over 10 years. Needless to say, funding levels need to be restored, if not increased.

Rural Development Programs:

Rural communities and small towns are the backbone of the social and economic life of America. However, their viability is jeopardized by slow economic improvement, aging infrastructure, the opioid epidemic, under-employment, and the movement of younger generations to other communities. The Farm Bill has important programs in place, but these need to be fully funded, if not expanded.

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. Your voice can help amend the 2018 Farm Bill.

References:

Read the USCCB, CRL, Catholic Charities and CRS’s full letter.

Read the full legislative text of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.

Read the section-by-section summary of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.

Read policy highlights in the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.

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.

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