American Agriculture Needs a Strong Farm Bill, Draft House Bill Doesn’t Deliver
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition urges Congress to develop a bipartisan bill
Washington, DC, April 12, 2018 – Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) introduced his draft of the 2018 Farm Bill – the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2). In response, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition issued the following comments.
The Conaway draft is clearly not a serious effort toward a bipartisan farm bill. By torpedoing decades of work by American farmers and advocates to advance sustainable agriculture and food systems, the Chairman has given this bill little chance of passing as written on the House floor. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) strongly encourages Chairman Conaway and the members of the House Agriculture Committee to work toward a bipartisan solution that will not just give lip service to America’s vulnerable families and food producing communities, but one that will provide real support to farmers, consumers, and our natural resources.
We are deeply disappointed with the direction that the Chairman has taken the country’s most important package of food and farm legislation. By eliminating all funding for innovative programs like the Value-Added Producer Grants Program, Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and Organic Certification Cost-Share the bill shuts out key segments of agriculture, including farmers and business owners taking advantage of fast-growing markets for locally and regionally produced food and value-added products.
The bill includes no meaningful limitations on subsidy payments to mega-farms, and makes no attempt to close existing loopholes that allow the nation’s largest farms to collect unlimited subsidies. It also shifts the focus of Farm Service Agency loans from small and mid-sized farms and beginning farmers to larger farms and CAFOs by raising loan caps.
Among the most egregious proposals in the Chairman’s bill is the wholesale elimination of the country’s largest conservation program – the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). More than 70 million acres across the country are currently enrolled in CSP, a program which offers producers unparalleled support and resources to achieve advanced whole-farm stewardship. The elimination of CSP means fewer options for voluntary conservation, more pollution, and less resilient farms and ranches. The claim that this bill rolls the best features of CSP into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program does not pass the laugh test – in fact, this bill does not include any of the most important stewardship features of CSP.
Adding insult to injury, the draft bill cuts working lands conservation program funding by 20 percent or $7 billion (exclusive of final payments to existing CSP contract holders), an amount greater than the cut to the total conservation title in the last farm bill. This represents a wholesale retreat from past efforts to assist farmers and ranchers to farm profitably and sustainably, and sets back the evolution of farm bill conservation by decades.
While the bright spots in the Chairman’s bill are few and far between, we applaud the Committee for including increased funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), and the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) program. However, we are very concerned that increases to nutrition incentive programs seem to be paid for out of harmful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
We are also pleased that the Chairman’s bill reinvests some funding in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program). However, the funding levels provided fall far below what is needed for each program. Moreover, while we are pleased with a number of important policy changes made to BFRDP, we are concerned that the changes made to 2501 will dilute the focus and effectiveness of the program. While beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are given some additional support through improvements to the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program, the bill neglects making much-needed changes to improve access to the larger federal crop insurance program that would truly strengthen the farm safety net.
In the coming days, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition will publish on our blog a series of summary analyses on each of our major farm bill campaign areas. Following a full analysis of the House mark, we will also publish a more detailed review.