“Specialty crops comprise a substantial percentage of American agriculture but receive far less than their fair share in federal support. We must look for resourceful and innovative ways to weave non-traditional commodities into existing programs and create new ones that suit the unique needs of these industries." Congressman Cardoza (D-CA)
Setting the Stage for a New Farm Bill
Hearings, debates and marker bills are just a few of the many efforts underway as the 2007 Farm Bill is constructed. “Marker bills” are pieces of legislation used to outline legislative priorities that could be included in the final legislation. AFT provided ideas and language for several marker bills and will participate closely as the final farm bill legislation unfolds. AFT endorsed the EAT Healthy for America Act, introduced by a broad bi-partisan Congressional group, that would both increase an abundant supply of fresh fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops for the world’s consumers and enhance conservation efforts. Rep. Kind (D-WI) and Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) introduced legislation called the Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuels Act of 2007 that has many similar conservation and healthy diets provisions. Representatives Thompson (D-CA) and Camp (R-MI) are working to make the provisions of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 permanent, which gave farmers and ranchers who donated a conservation easement in 2006 or 2007 a tax deduction of up to 100 percent of their income and other provisions for donating the development rights to their land.
Not a Pretty Budget Picture
When the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the federal agricultural budget [PDF] and sent it to the congressional budget committees, the battle began. Agriculture will have less than it did under the 2002 Farm Bill. On the Senate side, a non-binding $15 billion reserve fund has been established, and the House is expected to set up a similar fund. The catch? To access the reserve funds, the agriculture committees would have to either generate revenue or cut other programs as a spending offset.
Building a Coalition for Change in the Northeast
What does a small fruit farm in upstate New York have in common with a large commodity grower? The 2007 Farm Bill. The unique Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region boasts some of the most productive farmland in the nation. The region’s farms are nearly one-quarter the size of most of the nation’s farms; specialty crops and dairy products make up two-thirds of the region’s farm sales; and direct-to-consumer sales are double the national average. However, one-size-fits-all farm bill programs have historically favored farms of a type and scale not found in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, compromising the region’s competitiveness and leaving its farms underserved. American Farmland Trust is working with a coalition of producers, legislators and agriculture organizations to build consensus in the region behind a farm bill that is more equitably applied to all producers across the country and has the flexibility to address inter-regional differences.
Better Protection for Farmers at Lower Cost
Farming is inherently risky. Variations in prices and yields cause changes in revenue that are difficult for farmers to manage, so a safety net for producers is critical. Unfortunately, current federal safety net programs are costly and not always effective. The best evidence of the current programs' failure is the reoccurring need for ad hoc disaster assistance, that now averages $1.8 billion per year. AFT's recommended Integrated Farm Revenue Program provides better income protection for farmers by protecting against changes in both prices and yields. The new program would efficiently integrate crop insurance—saving taxpayers money while also providing better service for farmers—making reliance on uneven ad hoc disaster assistance a thing of the past.
Change Requires Teamwork
It will be tough advice with so many new players interested in a piece of the farm bill pie, but former Representative Charlie Stenholm (D-TX), who served as the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee from 1996-2004, says the key to success in the farm bill is to work together.
Farm Policy in the Outback
The whole world is watching what could happen in the 2007 Farm Bill. The Australian government recently commissioned the analytical powerhouse Informa Economics to look at the future direction of U.S. farm policy [PDF], referencing AFT's work and recommendations several times.
The Financial Times takes a look at how international trade is playing out and says, “As the so-called Doha round of World Trade Organization global trade talks sputters, more and more of the work of trade relations has shifted away from negotiation and towards litigation and arbitration.”