Why Should Southern Farmers Care About the Farm Bill?
By Steve Muntz, Southern SAWG Executive Director
It’s Farm Bill time and the South needs to pay attention. About every five years Congress addresses a myriad of farm, food and nutrition issues in the Farm Bill. This includes everything from crop insurance, conservation and agricultural research to food stamps and farmer’s market programs, many of which stand to make the food and farm system more sustainable. Things like the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, SNAP benefits at farmers markets, and other programs that support equitable, local and organic food production. So why should we be so concerned about the Farm Bill in the South? Here’s why:
- Sustainable Ag is tough down here. Let’s face it, most of the states in the Southern SAWG region are hot and humid. This gives us more challenges in terms of weeds, pests and overall productivity than most of the rest of the nation. Maintaining soil health is also a bigger problem. We need to keep good production research going that will help farmers address these issues as sustainably as possible.
- The South has some of the worst nutrition in the nation. While we certainly like our Southern food, we lead the nation in poor health due to nutrition. Southern Farmers can encourage development and funding of Farm Bill programs that promote both good prices for farmers and good food for all people.
- People of color have experienced a disproportionate level of discrimination in farm programs and the Farm Bill provides opportunities to level the ground here.
- The South actually has a lot of power in the Farm Bill process. The development of the Farm Bill begins in two committees in Congress – The House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Southern legislators dominate these two committees. In addition, there are numerous Southern legislators on the appropriations committees which is the other primary influencer on Farm Bill programs. Your voice to these legislators can help tip the balance. Take a look at the lists below:
AL: Rep Aderholt (AL - 4, Appropriations)
AR: Rep Crawford (AR -1, Ag), Sen Boozeman (Ag)
FL: Rep Rooney (FL -17, Appropriations), Sen Rubio (Appropriations), Rep Dunn (FL- 2 Ag), Rep Yoho (FL – 3 Ag), Rep Lawson (FL -5, Ag), Rep Soto (FL 9, Ag)
GA: Rep Bishop Jr. (GA – 2, Appropriations), Rep Allen (GA -12, Ag), Rep Scott (GA – 8, Ag), Rep Scott (GA -15, Ag), Sen Strange (Ag)
KY: Sen McConnell (Ag and Appropriations), Rep Comer (KY -1, Ag), Rep Rogers (KY -5, Appropriations)
LA: Rep Abraham (LA -5, Ag)
MS: Rep Kelly (MS -1, Ag), Rep Palazzo (MS -4, Appropriations), Sen Cochran (Ag and Appropriations)
NC: Rep Rouzer (NC -7, Ag), Rep Adams (NC-12, Ag)
OK: Rep Lucas (OK -3, Ag)
TN: Rep DesJarlais (TN -4, Ag)
TX: Rep Conway (TX -11, Ag Chair), Rep Arrington (TX 19, Ag), Rep Vela (TX -34, Ag)
VA: Rep Goodlatte (VA -6, Ag)
Clearly, the South has much to gain (or lose) by whatever comes out of the Farm Bill process. You can make a difference in the outcome and now is the time to look into it more and take action. If you’d like to learn more you could check out the webinars that Southern SAWG and NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) held last fall about the Farm Bill. Go to this link and take a look. You should also visit this NSAC site to learn about NSAC’s Farm Bill platform and specific actions you can take. Finally, join in on Southern SAWG’s quarterly PCAN (Policy Collaborative Action Network) calls to stay in touch with Farm Bill progress and share your ideas and thoughts. Contact Gabraelle Lane, Southern SAWG’s Policy Coordinator, to learn more.