Farm Aid Program Director Hilde Steffey offers this update on the U. S. Farm Bill. Hilde pays attention to what’s going on legislatively for farmers, and blogs regularly about policy at the Farm Aid Website.
As I sit down to write this (overdue) blog I have no idea where to begin. Perhaps I’ve just grown tired trying to keep up with all the recent Farm Bill shenanigans. The Farm Bill is a complicated enough piece of legislation as is without the dysfunction of Congress making the whole process look like a really bad soap opera. In any event, it’s been messy. And frustrating. And the outcome, ultimately, is about as lousy as one could imagine.
A quick recap…
In the final hours of 2012 (literally), behind closed doors, with no engagement of Ag Committee leadership, and no reflection of the ideas put forward for reform in either the Senate 2012 Farm Bill (passed in June) or the House Ag Committee Farm Bill (passed in July), a 2008 Farm Bill extension was recklessly tacked on to the “fiscal cliff” bill. If this doesn’t sound quite like the democratic process you learned about in high school, you’re right. And we should all be steaming mad about it.
What this maneuver translates to is no change to commodity programs (even though both the Senate and House, as well as public opinion in general, had clearly agreed that direct payment subsidies for crops such as corn and soy were a logical place to reduce federal spending and in dire need of reform); no renewed funding for dozens of innovative and essential programs geared toward supporting beginning farmers and ranchers, local and regional food systems, organic agriculture, and equity for socially disadvantaged farmers. And, perhaps most surprising of all, the extension includes no funding for disaster assistance, despite farmers and ranchers across the nation facing the worst drought of a generation.
So what’s next? It’s hard as ever to tell. Congress has some pretty big to-dos ahead of them this winter, including getting disaster relief out for those affected by Superstorm Sandy and addressing the debt ceiling and federal budget crises. There may be opportunities to fix some or many of the extension setbacks in each of these bills, but more than likely any movement on either another extension or a new five-year farm bill isn’t going to begin until at least March at the earliest.
Despite feeling pretty jaded (and I’m sure I’m not alone), I’m inspired having just returned from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition winter meeting, where I was surrounded by folks who have been pushing and sustaining the effort for transformative change in farm policy for decades. Too much is at stake – for farmers, for eaters, for our communities and environment – to get bogged down by the recent happenings in D.C. Just last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the Senate-passed version of the farm bill as a top priority, vowing to make a 2013 Farm Bill a reality. Now it’s our turn to commit to doing all we can to ensure that a 2013 Farm Bill passes, serving not just the interests of a powerful few, but the interests of us all, now and long into the future.
Let us know what questions you have about the Farm Bill process, and how Farm Aid can keep you informed on what’s happening, what’s at stake, and how you can demand real reform in the next Farm Bill.