House Moves Farm and Food Bill in the Right Direction
A better farm and food bill emerged from the U.S. House of Representatives last week after input from thousands of people around the country, including AFT's Action Network. The final bill increases funding for national priorities, including conservation, healthy diets, local foods, specialty crops and nutrition. Conservation ended up with a 35 percent increase overall in spending—despite two late amendments that threatened the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program but were ultimately withdrawn. The Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, specialty crop funding and local food preference in federal food programs also gained significant boosts. A broad spectrum of organizations weighed in with letters of support to help shepherd through a bill that better addresses the needs of agriculture and the public.
“Changes should have gone further to reform safety net programs, update direct payments to exclude non-farmers from receiving payments, and reward farmers and ranchers for their environmental stewardship,” explained AFT's Ralph Grossi. “However, the House bill that passed represented the best chance for agriculture and consumers to continue our work in the Senate and the Conference Committee to further transform U.S. farm policy.” With legislators on recess and in their home districts during August, consumers and others will have an opportunity to make their voices heard on the local level.
On to Reform in the Senate
Last week Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Brown (D-OH) introduced the Farm Safety Net Improvement Act of 2007, which transforms commodity subsidies and represents real reform in Title I programs. AFT worked closely with the National Corn Growers Association and Senators Durbin and Brown on the bill, which provides better protection with fewer market distortions and greater equity across crops, at no additional cost to taxpayers. “If market price isn’t the only factor that affects what a farmer makes, it shouldn’t be the only factor on which we base commodity calculations,” said Durbin. “This bill recalculates the way we allocate funding to correct program inefficiencies and target farmers in need.” The Senators said the Senate Agriculture Committee will give serious consideration to this proposal, in part because of the difficult federal budget constraints under which they are working on the 2007 Farm Bill.
EPA Administer Meets with Ag Leaders for First Time
For the first time ever, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator met with agricultural leaders from AFT, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and others to discuss the environmental issues facing agriculture. The EPA wanted to learn more about how changes in agriculture will impact the environment, and how the EPA can improve its relationship with agricultural producers while involving them further in environmental protection. “This meeting was a great opportunity for us to review environmental issues facing agriculture, loss of working farms and ranches to development, and also to discuss the environmental opportunities for agriculture,” says AFT’s Jimmy Daukas, Director of Farm Policy. “On top of protecting America's farm and ranch land, the more we understand how agriculture can promote and provide environmental services that the public values—clean water, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat— the faster we can move toward increasing diversified markets and creating an added revenue stream for farmers and ranchers, in addition to providing food, fiber and fuel."
A Remedy for WTO Headaches?
The recent case from Canadian corn growers, and a judgment against the United States by the World Trade Organization in the Brazil cotton case, underscores how subsidy payments under existing farm policy leave the United States vulnerable to challenges in the world court. According to the Congressional Research Service, exposure to challenge can be minimized by reforming farm policy to make it "greener." The key elements of this needed reform include increased conservation, elimination of the link between subsidies and production, and the creation of a whole-farm revenue insurance program. The Farm Safety Net Improvement Act of 2007 overhauls the subsidy payment program and creates a revenue-based program. AFT's Ralph Grossi and Ken McCauley of the National Corn Growers Association discuss the Durbin-Brown bill, which moves toward that goal and will better serve agriculture and taxpayers.
Local Agriculture an Important Addition to Cuisine and Economy
“It’s time to vote with your fork,” participants learned at an event this week in Westport, Connecticut, that was co-sponsored by AFT. At the forum, “Putting the Food Back in the farm bill," farmers Jean and Terry Jones said the Farm Bill is “now in the hands of the citizens to speak up,” while the Winston-Salem Journal reports on why readers opt to buy locally grown products.
The Dirt on Farm Subsidies
Los Angeles Times op-ed writer Brian Riedl writes, “Lawmakers would be hard-pressed to enact a set of policies more destructive to farmers, taxpayers, consumers, the environment, trade, global anti-poverty efforts and even our health than the current farm policies."
Rarely Do Washington News Giants Agree…
“This is not reform” says the Washington Post in an editorial on the House Agriculture Committee’s proposed farm bill, adding credence to the public outcry over subsidy payments by revealing that deceased farmers received USDA payments. Although rarely in sync, the Washington Times agrees with the Post that current farm policy is a wasteful use of public tax dollars.
FRPP Works All Around the Country
AFT knows how effective the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection (FRPP) program can be, so we galvanized our Take Action Network members to help push back dangerous changes to the program in the House Agriculture Committee. Foster’s Daily Democrat announced that through a combination of local and federal funds, working farms will be “preserved for future generations."