Farm Bill Update – Feb. 8, 2013

Farm Bill Extension

Consistent with today’s Congressional climate, last year’s farm bill debate was a grueling process, alternating between bipartisan compromise and political gridlock. As you know, the 2012 Farm Bill debate ended with an expired bill and a last minute partial extension of some farm bill programs included in the McConnel-Biden “fiscal cliff” package.  The 113th Congress is expected to propose a new farm bill before the current extension expires on September 30, 2013.

Extension

The current extension has no net cost associated with it because most of the major farm bill programs already have mandatory funding through the budget baseline. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), crop insurance, farm commodity programs and some conservation programs are examples of farm bill programs that are permanently authorized and funded.

Some programs are not included in that mandatory budget baseline and did not receive additional mandatory funding under the extension.  This includes certain agricultural disaster assistance programs, conservation programs, specialty crop research, organic research and certification, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer programs, rural development, bioenergy, and farmers market promotion programs. Many of these programs would have been funded in the five-year farm bills that were developed in 2012.

What Was Cut

37 programs did not receive funding under the farm bill extension. This is a sample of a few of those programs that directly affect our work; visit the blog of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for a complete list of programs not included.

Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative – $20 million

  • This program funds organic research and extension  services.

Specialty Crop Research Initiative – $50 million

  • This program was established to solve critical specialty crop (fruits and vegetables) industry issues through research and extension activities.

National Organic Certification Cost Share Program – $22 million

  • The program reimburses farmers up to $750 annually for organic certification costs. 9,343 farmers took advantage of this program during fiscal year 2011

Organic Production and Marketing Data Initiative – $5 million

  • This program funded a data collection system for organic agriculture research.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program – $19 million

  • This program provided education and assistance to beginning adult and young farmers.

What Wasn’t Cut

Among the programs that were kept through the mandatory baseline funding was the direct payment of subsidies for commodity production. This program pays $5 billion annually to farms that grow major commodity crops and are subsidies that only a small percentage of organic farms qualify for.

To put that into perspective, the total cost of all of the 37 programs not included in the extension is $471.95 million, a mere 9.5% of the direct payment subsidy program. In comparison to the cost of the entire 2008 Farm Bill, these 37 programs made up .2% of  the entire $284 billion package.

What Happens Next

It is highly unlikely that these programs will be funded through discretionary funding during Congressional Budget Appropriations because Congress has been mandated to cut an additional  $16 billion in non-military discretionary spending.

There is also no guarantee on a full farm bill this year, maybe another extension. This would be a major setback for the local food movement, for organic, beginning, and minority farmers, for researchers and for rural economic development. The real danger of these cuts is the elimination of innovative programs that will severely limit our ability to target new investments in the future of organic and sustainable farming.

How The Extension Affects CFSA

This extension directly affects many of our organic grower members, as well as the many researchers and organizations that we collaborate with across the Carolinas. Without farm bill support for organic research or innovation, we see many great challenges ahead not only to our organization and to our members, but also to our partner organizations across the region.

Direct Effects:

  1. Loss of scholarships to the Sustainable Agriculture Conference. Many of the scholarships for beginning farmers were funded through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
  2. Loss of funding for our Intern Referral Program which is also made possible with funding from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

How You Can Take Action

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association will remain active in our grassroots efforts towards a full-five year farm bill in 2013 that supports organic research, family farms and an equitable food system. We will work with our allies at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington DC to follow the farm bill debate closely. We will continue to actively engage CFSA members and partners in the Carolinas to educate them on the process towards a 2013 farm bill.  We will also continue to provide Action Alerts to our members as a way to mobilize around key farm bill issues.

In the meantime, please contact your member of Congress and tell them:

“It is important to me that a full five-year farm bill is passed in 2013. We need a farm bill that supports organic research, family farms and an equitable food system.”

For more information on the expiration and extension of the 2008 farm bill, go here to read a report by the Congressional Research Service.

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