Rep. Conaway’s Farm Bill Fails Farmers & Communities That Need It MostRAFI Urges Congress to Find Balance in Farm Bill
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PITTSBORO, N.C., April 13, 2018—House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX) unveiled his draft of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2). Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) is incredibly disappointed in the House version of the bill, which includes sweeping changes to nutrition assistance and the elimination of the country’s largest conservation program, among other egregious proposals. While the bill contains some very positive work, such as increased funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), and inclusion of the bipartisan Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act, the overall direction of the bill reflects a partisan, unbalanced approach that neglects the farmers, families and communities that rely on a strong Farm Bill the most.
“The Chairman’s Mark is a partisan farm bill that has shattered the longstanding work of farmers and advocates,” said Edna Rodriguez, RAFI’s executive director. “RAFI urges Chairman Conaway and the members of the House Agriculture Committee to work toward a bipartisan bill, with all voices of agriculture and the food system heard. Working together is the only way we can move forward to enhancing the viability of farm families, the economy, the environment and community health.”
RAFI reviewed key titles in the Chairman’s Mark and provided the following comments. RAFI’s Farm Bill Scorecard is also available for a quick look at where this bill supports or fails our farmers, their communities and the environment.
The development of this Farm Bill is taking place against the backdrop of low commodity prices, eroding farm incomes and fear at the potential loss of global markets. RAFI is seeing firsthand the toll this financial situation takes on farm families. The Chairman’s Mark provides assistance for farmers in the current environment, especially dairy. But the Farm Bill does nothing to address corporate concentration and control of global commodity markets that underlay these low prices.
The Chairman’s Mark does address issues of overlapping coverage between commodity and crop insurance programs by appropriately clarifying that a farmer cannot receive benefits from both crop insurance and commodity programs for the same revenue losses.
Any possible good in the Conservation Title is overshadowed by the extremely damaging proposal to dismantle the country’s largest conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP offers producers resources & support to achieve whole-farm stewardship across more than 70 million enrolled acres. In addition, this bill cuts working lands conservation program funding by 20 percent. This bill rolls CSP into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which received significant funding increase, jumping from $2 to $3 billion over 5 years.
The drastic increase in EQIP funding – which has traditionally gone to large farm operations and concentrated animal feeding operations – coupled with reduced Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) payments, and the increased ability to graze on CRP acres, greater incentivizes large-scale industrial agriculture, especially livestock operations. This bill does nothing to address the widespread subsidizing of industrial mega-farms by neglecting to limit payments to recipients.
SNAP & Nutrition
The Nutrition Title is a central part of the Farm Bill that affects every city and town across the country, especially rural farming communities. RAFI is incredibly disheartened to see deep cuts to SNAP in the Chairman’s Mark through increased eligibility restrictions and expanded work requirements.
The proposed bill would require SNAP recipient ages 18-59 who are neither seriously disabled nor raising a child under age 6 to demonstrate employment or participation in a job training program of at least 20 hours a week. Those who do not show compliance with work requirements each month would lose their SNAP benefits. While the bill proposes to answer this need by requiring states to provide space in work programs and employment services, around 6 to 8 million people could be subject to these expanded work requirements. This forces states to perform mathematical impossibilities by creating work programs and the systems to track compliance while vastly underfunding such efforts. Even were sufficient funding for work programs to be provided, research shows that such programs, while expensive, have only limited and short-term success (Pavetti, 2018). This is not evidence-based policy-making.
In addition to severe reforms in the Nutrition Title, Conaway’s proposal effectively eliminates funding for other programs that support local food systems and farmers. Both the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) and Farmers Market Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) lost mandatory funding.
One positive move for SNAP beneficiaries from the Chairman’s Mark is the increased mandatory funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program. FINI supports projects that increase SNAP recipients’ consumption of fruits and vegetables by providing incentives at the point of purchase. While mandatory funding is a welcome addition to the proposal, the positive effect is severely undercut by SNAP reforms that reduce people’s access to food assistance.
The Chairman’s Mark increases the maximum loan limits of guaranteed loans to $1.75 million. While this is far less than the proposed increase to $3.5 million, this increase is not a demonstrated need based on current loan use, and does not limit the use of loan guarantees for highly specialized confined animal feeding operations. RAFI has joined with over 250 organizations and lenders to oppose across the board increases in guaranteed loan limits to protect credit for small- and mid-scale farmers. See our letter here.
Farmers often face difficult decisions when the good conservation practices that are encouraged by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service wind up costing them their crop insurance, with the taxpayer as the loser. In this bill, the House Agriculture Committee missed the opportunity to include common sense proposals to align NRCS and Crop Insurance production standards and integrate NRCS, FSA and RMA data to strengthen crop insurance for the long haul and reduce the cost to the taxpayer.
While the Chairman’s Mark changed the definition of beginning farmers to 10 years for the purposes of Whole Farm Revenue Crop Insurance to match the broader USDA definition, it failed to make the change for the rest of crop insurance.
In broader risk management programs, the bill proposes to continue the buy-up coverage option in the Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which is critical for the coverage of specialty crops that do not otherwise have crop insurance coverage.
RAFI is also disappointed the House Agriculture Committee failed to address public cultivar development. Expanding the capacity for universities to develop and distribute public varieties that respond to the needs of farmers and their communities is essential to farmers’ livelihoods and long-term food security.
RAFI is very encouraged by several of the very positive provisions concerning support for organic agriculture. The Chairman’s Mark includes funding for the Organic Data Initiative, and increases funding for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative which increased to $30 million, though not up to the $50 million sought. This demonstrates a commitment to helping the organic industry gain data and access to more research, services and benefits available to other sectors of agriculture. They also reserve praise for inclusion of the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act, which provides much needed additional authorities and resources for the National Organic Program to ensure organic imports are fully compliant with U.S. Organic Standards. Recent imported grain frauds have harmed U.S. organic producers and this addition will help close loopholes in our organic import regulations.
However, the elimination of funding for the very popular Organic Certification Cost-Share program is alarming, as this program gave more than 10,000 small-scale and limited-resource farmers an opportunity to access organic markets that were potentially out of reach to them.
Another dangerous and unacceptable proposed change is to the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, which would give the Secretary new power to unilaterally add materials to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. The National Organic Standards Board has historically held this power in order to protect organic integrity. This new USDA power is currently not allowed by law.
“This bill eliminates one of the bedrock checks and balances between the USDA and the National Organic Standards Board.” said Michael Sligh, founding chairman of the National Organic Standards Board.
Livestock & Competition Reforms
The Chairman’s Mark shows increased support for the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, which subsidizes and performs many services integrators should provide. The program will perform many of the functions typically expected of company employees, and for which the companies should be responsible.
The establishment of National Animal Vaccine Bank is another example of corporate subsidies. This program provides $250 million to create and maintain a government vaccine bank to be used in the event of animal disease outbreak. While the vaccine bank is a reasonable sounding concept, integrators should be the ones funding such an endeavor, not the taxpayers.
Recent decisions by this USDA administration indicate that fair competition within the market and protections for farmers are not a high priority. This Farm Bill has done nothing to address the imbalance of power between large corporations and individual farmers, nor does it provide protections to farmers from retaliation.
Our Work Continues
RAFI will publish a more detailed review of the Chairman’s mark for each of our key policy areas on our blog. To learn more about the 2018 Farm Bill, RAFI’s platform, the Farm Bill process and how to make an impact, visit www.rafiusa.org/farmbill.
About the Rural Advancement Foundation International
The Rural Advancement Foundation International mission is to cultivate markets, policies and communities that sustain thriving, socially just, and environmentally sound family farms. RAFI works nationally and internationally, focusing on North Carolina and the southeastern United States. RAFI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Pittsboro, North Carolina and incorporated in 1990.
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