This blog post will inform you on what the farm bill is, what it covers, and key takeaways from the most recent Farm Bill that was voted on and passed in December of 2018.
What is the Farm Bill?
This piece of legislation sets the stage for our food and farm systems. It expands on the livelihoods of farmers, how food is grown, and the types of food that is grown. It is updated and voted on every five years; it covers programs ranging from crop insurance for farmers to healthy food access for low-income families as well as beginning farmer trainings to support sustainable farming practices.
How did the Farm Bill Start?
The farm bill got its start in 1933 as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. It was a response to the economic and environmental crisis of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
Its three original goals:
- To keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers
- To ensure an adequate food supply
- To protect and sustain the country’s vital natural resources
What Does the Farm Bill Cover?
The farm bill’s sections are called titles.
Following are the titles as well as what they cover explained by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
- Title 1: Commodities. The Commodities Title covers price and income supports for the farmers who raise widely-produced and traded crops, like corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice – as well as dairy and sugar.
- Title 2: Conservation. The Conservation Title covers programs that help farmers implement natural resource conservation efforts on working lands like pasture and cropland, land retirement programs, and easement programs. The title also includes resource conservation requirements for participation in commodity and crop insurance programs and helps institutions and community organizations provide farmers with conservation technical assistance.
- Title 3: Trade. The Trade Title covers food exports and international food aid programs.
- Title 4: Nutrition. The Nutrition Title covers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] – also known as food stamps – as well as a variety of smaller nutrition programs to help low-income Americans afford food for their families.
- Title 5: Credit. The Credit Title covers federal loan programs designed to help farmers access the financial credit (via direct loans as well as loan guarantees and other tools) they need to grow and sustain their farming operations.
- Title 6: Rural Development. The Rural Development Title covers programs that help foster rural economic growth through rural business and community development (including farm businesses), housing, and infrastructure improvement.
- Title 7: Research, Extension, and Related Matters. The Research Title covers farming and food research, education, and extension programs designed to support innovation, from state university-affiliated research to vital training for the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
- Title 8: Forestry. The Forestry Title covers forest-specific conservation, creating incentives and programs that help farmers and rural communities to be stewards of forest resources.
- Title 9: Energy. The Energy Title covers programs that encourage growing and processing crops for biofuel; help farmers, ranchers and business owners install renewable energy systems; and support research related to energy.
- Title 10: Specialty Crops & Horticulture. The term “specialty crops” refers to fruits, vegetables, nuts, and nursery crops, including organic produce. This title covers farmers market and local food programs, funding for research and infrastructure specific to those “specialty crops”, and organic research and certification programs.
- Title 11: Crop Insurance. The Crop Insurance Title provides premium subsidies to farmers and subsidies to the private crop insurance companies who provide federal crop insurance to farmers, as well as providing USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) with the authority to research, develop, and modify a variety of crop- and revenue-based insurance policies.
- Title 12: Miscellaneous. The Miscellaneous Title brings together advocacy and outreach programs for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers; agricultural labor safety and workforce development; and livestock health
What is in the New Farm Bill?
Below are some highlights of the $867 billion Farm Bill – Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.
- Industrial hemp is officially legal
- The new farm bill doesn’t make any significant changes to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) but adds the Produce Prescription Program. This allows health-care providers to distribute low-income patients vouchers that can be exchanged for fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Conservation Programs: The bill shifted funds to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which reimburses farmers for conservation-oriented farm projects. It also includes a new Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers initiative, designed to support conservation buffers to benefit water quality.
- There’s now more funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program: This program provides funding to buy the development rights to agricultural land and wetlands so that senior farmers can retire without having to sell their land for residential, commercial, or industrial development, and so that farmland can remain affordable for beginning farmers. Funding for ACEP rose to $450 million per year (a $2 million annual increase over the current baseline). The bill grants $300 million in annual mandatory funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which addresses farmland loss and water quality and measures changes in phosphorus and sediment loss.
- The new bill provides $50 million in annual funding for the flagship Organic Research and Extension Initiative through 2023: The bill provides mandatory funding for the organic certification cost-share program, which incentivizes small and beginning farmers to transition to organic by relieving some of the costs associated with certification. In addition, the bill will fund the Organic Data Initiative, a USDA program designed to provide accurate market and production information for the organic industry and improve access to data that tracks the international organic trade. Also, one section of the bill, the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act, will require imported organic products to bear an electronic import certificate that is expected to help prevent organic fraud and create a more transparent marketplace.
- Greenhouses: The bill creates a new position at the USDA to assist urban and indoor farmers seeking to create or expand businesses. It also provides new research and development funding for greenhouse products.
- Other Programs: The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program are melded into a newFarming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program, which will fund organizations training the next generation of farmers. The Value-Added Producer Grant Program and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program become a new Local Agriculture Market Program, which will, for the first time, provide permanent funding to organizations working to improve local food infrastructure (think farmers’ markets and regional food hubs).
- The farm bill earmarks $30 million a year for a new program to combat animal diseases: This includes a livestock vaccine bank that’s expected to protect against devastating outbreaks of maladies like foot-and-mouth disease.
- Several new animal rights measures are in place: The Pet and Women Safety Act, which extends current federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets. The farm bill also includes a Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act, which ensures that current federal prohibitions on animal fighting activity are consistently applied in all US jurisdictions and territories, and a Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, which bans the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption.
If you are interested in the Farm Bill in its entirety, check out the full conference report: https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181210/CRPT-115hrpt1072.pdf