By Doug Walton
Fresh at the Market
Coming up for reauthorization about every 5 years since 1933, the U.S. Farm Bill was due for a re-do in 2012. But partisan stalemates and election year distractions have prolonged passage of this colossal piece of legislation until the near final hour, with prospects for movement still uncertain.
If no bill passes this year, then some experts say all of our current farm policies will be flung over yet another proverbial cliff, reverting automatically back to policies in place at the time of 1949, due to an obscure technicality. And if that were to happen, many of the programs included in today’s farm bill would be no more.
As it turns out, the farm bill is actually more of a farm, food and nutrition bill that encompasses a huge range of programs including subsidies for agricultural commodities, crop insurance, loans and conservation as well as programs providing food assistance to low-income individuals and families, such as through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly called food stamps; and WIC (Women, Infants and Children).
The farm bill also includes funding for programs that address rural development, exports, forest management, agricultural research, renewable energy, organic production, farmers markets, local food systems and more.
And so losing many of these programs at a time when food prices are on the rise, families are stretched to make ends meet and farmers are struggling through a prolonged drought would probably not be a good thing.
Drastic and sudden changes in farm and food policy are also ill-advised given the somewhat fragile demographics of today’s farmers – 57percent are over the age of 54 and only 5 percent are under the age of 35. And we only have about 2 percent of the U.S. population who live on farms and less than 1 percent claim farming as their primary occupation.
Thus, with so few farmers and many of them approaching a retirement age, we more than ever need a farm bill that looks to the future and sets a course for growing strong resilient food and farming systems that strengthen local economies while producing healthy food.
Many farm bill experts suspect that if a bill can’t be passed as part of a fiscal cliff aversion package, then the current farm bill programs and funding will likely be extended for a year, until a new bill can be reauthorized.
However, if a farm bill is squeaked through this year, it could still sustain major cuts to very important programs. This is why it’s worth realizing the farm bill is almost as important to eaters as it is to farmers, and why it might be a good idea to learn more about this interesting and significant legislative process. For a good summary, visit www.farmbillfacts.org.