Horticulturalists predict that, due to the late spring, asparagus plants will sprint from dormant to fast-growing shoots in no time flat. It’s a little like the way Congress is approaching the Farm Bill this year.
Barely two years after Congress passed the last Farm Bill in May 2008, people imagined that there might be a reauthorization of the Farm Bill in 2011. Then, when that didn’t happen, Congress tried for 2012. The Senate actually passed a Farm Bill last summer, and the House Agriculture Committee passed theirs, but a big election year isn’t the best time for congressional leaders to take risks on contentious issues, and House leaders weren’t willing to let the Farm Bill come to the floor. So the 2008 Farm Bill expired, and several important programs were left in limbo, without an authorization that allows funding to be appropriated for them.
Among these “stranded programs” are programs that support establishing and expanding farmers markets, CSAs, and other direct marketing between consumers and farmers; programs to train and help establish beginning farmers – so needed as the nation’s farming population continues to dwindle; several programs supporting production and marketing of food; programs to help farmers be more profitable; programs to help immigrant, minority, and other under-served farmers prosper in farming, and a host of others.
Even when Congress passed an extension of the Farm Bill during the Fiscal Cliff crisis at New Year’s, they didn’t address all parts of the Farm Bill, and these stranded programs remained unauthorized. It’s important to get these programs funded, and because the Farm Bill affects so many parts of the lives of consumers, rural and urban communities, farmers, and the environment, it’s important that the Farm Bill get through Congress this year.
There has been much talk of another stalled-out Farm Bill effort this year. But suddenly last week, the calculus in Congress shifted, and after sitting on their hands for the better part of a year, Agriculture Committees in both houses have announced plans to move their respective Farm Bills forward and move quickly. There’s just one catch – the House plans to cut even more from the Farm Bill than in last year’s version, and they say they have no stomach for changing the unfair and distorting farm subsidies that encourage exactly the most environmentally and socially destructive kinds of agriculture. Instead, they plan to cut programs that help farmers protect soil and water and otherwise practice sound conservation.
Right now is a crucial moment for those who want a Farm Bill that empowers consumers, supports healthy food for all income levels, helps farmers make a fair standard of living, protects clean water and farmland, creates a foundation for strong rural and urban communities, and helps new farmers enter into farming.
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This post is by Margaret Krome, Policy Director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy. The Institute cultivates the ecological, social, economic, and spiritual vitality of food and farming systems through education, research, policy and market development. Ms. Krome can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.