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Temporary Farm Bill Extension Passes: Food and Farm Issues Still in Play

by Kim Leval — last modified Jan 18, 2013 07:10 PM

In the blink of an eye, Congress passed a lousy 9-month Farm Bill extension, as the rest of us were ringing in the New Year. The extension was part of the fiscal cliff negotiations.

In short, the Farm Bill is a mess. We need to fix it. 
After attending the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition meeting in Florida last week, it's clear to me that there are many ways we can still try and reform food and farm policy in this country. We want marker bills or other vehicles ready, so that we can strive for improvements in conservation, organic and research for alternatives. We want to be ready to counter attempts to roll back clean water regulations or to add industry loopholes that fast track GMOs. It's crucial to keep pushing for good environmental standards, organic programs, research on alternatives to pesticides, and other items that will truly reform the traditional 5-year Farm Bill. 

This what we all did last fall, and even though we didn't get the good things we wanted, we did stop a lot of bad ideas from moving forward. Because of your responses, no rollbacks on endangered species protection, clean water protection or biotech regulations were attached to the Farm Bill extension...and we count those as important wins! 
Our efforts also paid off in another way. While not perfect, the Conservation Stewardship Program was extended at the 2008 Farm Bill levels. Without our loud voices it might have been cut entirely. 

Unfortunately, several successful programs important to the advancement of alternatives to pesticides in agriculture were not included in the 9-month Farm Bill extension. These include support for organic research, organic cost share, and beginning farmers and ranchers.
You may ask, what did make it in?
Answer: Direct payments – those subsidy payments for commodity crops like corn and soybeans. These payments were not reformed in any way.
Last summer, the full Senate passed a Farm Bill that removed these direct payments, which many in agriculture agreed should go.  
All was not lost, though. This was just an extension and the new Congress will soon address a full five-year Farm Bill. Your calls to Congress are extremely important. Be ready to pick up the phone this spring and summer.

- Kim Leval