(Beyond Pesticides, August 6, 2007) On July 20, 2007 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm, Nutrition and Energy Act of 2007 (H.R. 2419), commonly known as the Farm Bill, on a vote of 231-191, with 10 Representatives not voting. The vote fell generally along party lines with 19 Republicans (just six from the Agriculture Committee) voting for the bill, despite opposition from Republican leadership, the threat of a Presidential veto, and 14 Democrats voting against it.
Organic and sustainable agriculture groups are giving the 2007 Farm Bill a mixed review. While taking several steps forward by increasing funding for programs that support the
next generation of farmers and new marketing options for organic, sustainable producers, the bill as a whole moves in reverse with substantial weakening of current commodity and conservation payment limitations and a 30 percent funding cut for the Conservation Security Program.
The National Organic Coalition (NOC), which includes the Rural Advancement Fund International, Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and others, developed a list of priorities for the Farm Bill. View a full analysis of the NOC requests adopted and rejected by the House Agriculture Committee.
The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reports that the Farm Bill provides or increases mandatory funding for several sustainable, organic and family farmer-friendly programs, including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Farmers Marketing Assistance Program, Organic Certification Cost Share Program, and Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers. The bill also provides $30 million a year in mandatory funding for the Value-Added Producers Grant Program (VAPG). Although this is $10 million a year less than is currently allocated, it does not cut all funding, as proposed by the rural development subcommittee. The bill also makes food supply chain networks to support small and mid-sized farms a priority under the VAPG program.
The bill provides renewed funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program, establishes a mandatory Cooperative Conservation Partnerships Initiative, and provides new incentives to lease or sell land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program to beginning farmers. The bill makes major improvements in the Beginning Farmer Down Payment Loan Program and increases the percentage of loan funds reserved for beginning farmers. It also authorizes, though does not fund, two important new programs — a Rural Entrepreneurs and Micro-Enterprise Assistance Program, and an Organic Conversion Assistance Program.
At the same time, however, the committee unanimously passed a commodity program payment limitation provision that results in greater inequity in a program already faulted for its wastefulness and fraud. This is a significant step backward and one whose net effect would be a large increase in subsidies to megafarms, which drives small farm operations out of business. On the conservation side, the House bill weakens the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Conservation Security Program (CSP), and in certain instances the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
“The House Agriculture Committee made some positive strides with their bill. We applaud the stronger commitments made to the next generation of farmers and to new marketing tools that help increase family farm revenue and provide consumers greater access to healthy foods,” said Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Unfortunately, the same forward-looking position does not characterize the Committee’s treatment of commodity and conservation programs.”
The vast majority of the funding in the Farm Bill continues to pad the bottom lines of corporate, conventional agriculture. According to the budget watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, current agriculture policy distorts our international and domestic commodity markets, prices small and family farms out of the market, does little for the rural economy, subsidizes crops that are of little nutritional value, and transfers billions of taxpayer dollars annually to a small number of producers.
The Senate is expected to address the Farm Bill in September or October 2007. Once the Senate adopts its version, a final Farm Bill will be negotiated in committee.