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Four Things for the Farm Bill

by NSAC — last modified Nov 16, 2011 04:35 PM

Recommendations to the Joint Select Committee on the Imminent 2012 Farm Bill Proposal, courtesy of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.


As you know, the farm bill normally is a year or year and a half long process fashioned through extensive hearings, markups, and floor consideration. Due to the unique process being used this year to potentially pre-empt normal consideration of the bill in 2012, the current consideration of the farm bill as a Joint Select Committee is the one and only opportunity to amend and revise the five-year farm bill proposal. Thus it rests in the Joint Select Committee’s hands to rectify any major problems with the bill.

In our view, the farm bill – which is the primary federal policy mechanism to establish this country’s food policy and also plays a major role in the nation’s conservation policy and rural development efforts – is extremely important legislation that would benefit from more complete and more public consideration. We recognize, however, that the major decisions on farm and food policy for the next five years will be set by the Joint Select Committee members in the course of just the next five days. Hence we have joined with sustainable agriculture partners to provide recommendations for the needed fixes to the proposed farm bill, based on our best available information.

First, amend the farm bill to place real caps on the amount of taxpayer-provided production subsidies any one farm can receive on an annual basis. Sadly, based on the best information we have, the bill does not do that. It leaves in place current loopholes that allow the nation’s largest farms to collect hundreds of thousands and in some cases even millions of dollars a year in subsidies. The bill does reportedly include an “adjusted gross income” eligibility measure that would prevent individuals with adjusted gross income of over $1 million ($2 million for married couples) from qualifying, but this measure, while supportable, is largely ineffective. We need actual limits on actual payments and they need to apply to all program crops, without exception. We urge the committee to include the language proposed by Senators Grassley and Johnson. Their proposal to set hard caps, with no loopholes, is good for family farmers, is good public policy, and saves real dollars. Without the Grassley-Johnson language, there is no reform of the out-of-control subsidy system, period, regardless of any other bells and whistles the bill’s promoters may point to in an attempt to convince the public they have provided a measure of reform.

Second, amend the farm bill to require all farms receiving commodity or crop insurance taxpayer-provided subsidies to comply with soil erosion and wetland protection requirements. Forcing the taxpayer to subsidize the destruction of the basis of our long-term food security – the soil -- and the draining of ecologically-critical wetlands is indefensible. Yet, according to our best information, the bill to be presented does not tie “conservation compliance” requirements to crop insurance nor does it apply conservation compliance to all of the land that is eroding at unsustainable rates within the commodity subsidy program. The bill that will be presented reportedly also does not end commodity and crop insurance subsidies to those who would destroy native grasslands for the purpose of bringing them into crop production at public expense. The so-called “sodsaver” protection should be added to the bill to ensure the taxpayer is not being forced to subsidize the destruction of our remaining native grasslands. Adding “conservation compliance” and “sodsaver” to both the commodity and crop insurance titles of the farm bill is a simple, straightforward fix that will help protect the environment and our future food security.

Third, include the important policies from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act which are not included in the bill that will be presented. We are thankful the leaders of the authorizing committees plan to include a few small pieces of these two important bills, but we cannot stress enough that this is the farm bill, our only chance in the next five years to enact reforms to support the next generation of American farmers and to foster job-creating local farm and food efforts. There is real opportunity in agriculture today, and we believe it is possible to reverse the steady aging of American agriculture and also to create greater rural prosperity and improve access to healthy food, but only if we act with the smart policies incorporated in these two bills, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Sherrod Brown, respectively. Agriculture would benefit enormously by the adoption of these two bills by the Joint Select Committee. We therefore urge recommend adding these two critical bills to the farm bill section of the overall package. Failure to act would mean no progress on these critical issues until the 2017 Farm Bill. If we want to improve economic opportunity and job creation in the food and agricultural sector around the country, we cannot wait.

Finally, resist any attempts to increase the size of the proposed cuts to conservation and nutrition. Farm conservation support has been cut disproportionately relative to production subsidies. We do not believe that is fair, and want to be sure the cuts are not deepened. We also do not believe food assistance for low-income people should be cut and certainly should not be cut any more than proposed by the Agriculture Committee leaders.

Contact Your Legislators

You have an important opportunity. By contacting Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who is a co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, you have a chance to impact the final Farm Bill.

Please use this template to contact Senator Murray and urge her to support the recommendations explained above.

By Mail:

By Email:

By Phone: (202) 224-2621

Supporting Organizations:

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Cascade Harvest Coalition

Crossroads Farmers Market

Full Circle

Kirkland Wednesday Market

Lake Forest Park Farmers Market

Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides

Northwest Farm Bill Action Group

PCC Farmland Trust

Pikku Farm

Rutabaga Ranch

Seattle Tilth

Sno-Valley Tilth

Terry's Berries LLC

The Seattle Urban Farm Company

Tilth Producers of Washington

Vashon Island Growers Association

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network

Washington Tilth

Washington Young Farmers Coalition

Waterworks Division - Washington State