Farm Bill 2013: The time is now


shannon roberts, western, piedmont,

Shannon Roberts of Horse Collar Farm. Photo by Alix Blair for RAFI-USA, 2010.

UPDATE: The House rejects its version of the Farm Bill, 234-195. See how your representative voted: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2013/roll286.xml

Every time we bring up the Farm Bill, a great sense of urgency hovers over our words. But we’re not doing it for dramatic effect. The Farm Bill process, as long and drawn-out as it is, also moves incredibly quickly, minute by minute. Each time we send out a call to action, it’s because we have a tiny window of hope to get our voices heard.

Years, even decades, of work can come down to a 5-minute vote in an obscure committee. We hope that you will trust us, and our partners, that, when we ask you to take action, it is because that action is important and effective.

Last week, RAFI staff visited Capitol Hill to deliver the messages of rural communities throughout the country. We met with senators, representatives and policy partners to push for a better Farm Bill. This means legislation that brings the value of the good things that farmers do back to the community, instead of to multi-national corporations. We want policy in which farmers are rewarded for stewardship and entrepreneurship rather than overproduction.

This means policy that promotes basic fairness for all people who eat and enthusiastic support and advancement for all who labor in agriculture. And it means creating a nation rooted in a responsibility to care for and innovatively promote the health and sustainability of its environment.

Farm Bill votes in the House Rules Committee started Tuesday afternoon. The committee ended its session by evening, presenting 103 amendments up for debate on the floor today and tomorrow. 226 amendments were originally filed on Monday, many supported by RAFI and our partners. Unfortunately, many of our supported amendments were eliminated, related to rural development, crop insurance reform, local food, organic agriculture and outreach and assistance to minority farmers and ranchers.

Before Members of the House had a chance to vote, many of the amendments we supported (including all of the organic proposals) were withdrawn. These very important amendments we worked hard to secure were not even allowed for consideration.

This grim reality doesn’t mean it’s over. We can still win and demand a Farm Bill that supports our communities, not big corporations. Wins and losses will not be in the form of the whole bill, but small steps and language changes will help tip the balance.

A strong push from fair food and farm advocates like you can make a difference. Once again, we urge you to take action TODAY.

Click here to search for your representatives. Then call the Congress switchboard at 877-757-6910 and ask to be directed to your rep.

Below are priority amendments to urge your rep to support (and one to oppose):

Crop Insurance:
Payment Limit Reform Amendment (Fortenberry R-NE)
– This amendment builds on our historic win in the Senate bill, which now includes the tightest per farm payment limit ever in the history of farm programs. All of the savings would go toward deficit reduction. We believe this is common sense reform.

Conservation:
Amendment to require USDA agencies to provide a time and date stamped receipt for service to each farmer and rancher requesting information or service from USDA Amendment. (Fudge D-OH) – This amendment adds authority to require the issuance of a receipt for service or denial of service to any current or prospective participant in USDA programs serving farmers and ranchers as operated by the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources and Conservation Service and in any other USDA program directly serving producers. In a time of tight resources, a receipt for service will help assure that all farmers and ranchers receive clear information on programs available to them and what they need to do to access them, and verify that information has been provided. (Originally Sen. Tom Udall’s amendment).

SNAP Benefits:
OPPOSE: Lifetime ban on SNAP benefits to certain felons Amendment (Wagner, Ann R- MO, Blackburn R-TN, Walberg R-MI)
– The amendment creates a lifetime ban on SNAP benefits for anyone convicted of a drug-related felony, rape, murder, felony-robbery, or treason. Allows states to opt-in/opt-out of the lifetime ban to a minimum of a five (5) year ban.

For a full play-by-play and a list of what to support and oppose, click here for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s amendment tracker. RAFI is a proud member of NSAC, and, along with many other members, helps guide their policy priorities.

To watch the debate live on CSPAN, click here.