Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Will there be a 2012 Farm Bill?

With this early spring, most farmers are out in the fields trying to figure out which crops to plant with both ambient and soil temperatures higher than normal.  But there is also a lot of action taking place in Washington DC where discussions about food and agriculture are heating up in case there really is a 2012 Farm Bill. 

Why are we writing about the Farm Bill on a beginning farmers’ blog?  Well, the 2008 Farm Bill provided significant funding for Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, under which our Missouri Beginning Farmer project got started.  Beyond that, that Farm Bill provided for a national Conservation Stewardship Program, expanded the Organic title, and helped put in place the use of the Environmental Qualities Incentives Program funds for high tunnels.  All of these programs can be useful to beginning farmers, as well as many other Farm Bill programs that help sustainable farmers.   (If you are interested in learning more about the farm bill, you may find this publication, A Grassroots Guide to the Farm Bill from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition very useful.)

Farm Bills are written every 5-7 years and since the 2008 Farm Bill is supposed to expire this year, there are considerable rumblings that we will have a new Farm Bill in 2012.  In fact, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack touted the need for a 2012 Farm Bill in many different places in March, including the National Farmers Union convention and the 2012 Commodity Classic.   Congress has been holding hearings and bills have been introduced that contain Farm Bill provisions. It may mean that a new Farm Bill will be written this year, or it may mean that we will continue to operate under the old one for a while longer.  So that means everyone is weighing in on what they want in the next Farm Bill. 

Farm Bills are fiercely contested and include a number of different interest groups that have widely varying priorities.  For instance, the Food Research and Action Center is fighting hard to keep nutrition programs funded, while members of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture have priorities for conservation, beginning farming, and local food systems.  The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy weighed in on the farm bill last week by publishing “What’s at Stake in the 2012 Farm Bill?”   MU’s Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) published the a briefing book that provides benchmark data analysis of agriculture commodities that Congress will use as they debate the Farm Bill. 

Overwhelmed? Don’t be.  The Farm Bill is an interactive and dynamic process. If you’re interested, find a way to engage.  The American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, commodity groups, public health groups, environmental groups and hunger groups all provide avenues for participating – find the one that best fits you and pay attention to policy. It does have an impact on your farm!

(Written by Mary Hendrickson)

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