Bipartisan Deal Reached on Farm Bill: Includes Important Investments in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture, But Much-Needed Reforms Missing

 .
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 28, 2014

Contact:

MacKenzie Bailey, OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator—(203) 545-3909, mackenzie@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, OEFFA Communications Coordinator—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org
 .
Washington, D.C.—The Farm Bill agreement announced yesterday by the conference committee renews funding for a number of important programs that were left stranded by last year’s Farm Bill extension, but fails to make much-needed reforms in the structure of farm policy.

The bill renews critical investments in important programs for beginning farmers, local food systems, organic agriculture, and healthy food access. The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP), which has been without funding for more than a year, will receive $11.5 million in mandatory annual funding. The program, which is utilized by more than 40 percent of Ohio organic growers, reimburses farmers for up to 75 percent of their certification fees.

In addition to NOCCSP, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative will receive $20 million annually in mandatory funding, and the Organic Data Initiative and the National Organic Program will each receive $5 million in one-time mandatory funding. The bill also links conservation requirements to the receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies and rejects a series of extreme proposals to eliminate market and contract protections for livestock and poultry farmers.

“Although this bill is a mixed bag, innovative programs that invest in beginning farmers, organic agriculture, local food systems, and rural communities—which have been stranded without funding for more than a year—can now be revived,” said MacKenzie Bailey, Policy Program Coordinator with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). “We applaud Senator Sherrod Brown, who served on the conference committee, for his vital role in advocating for sustainable agriculture programs.”

Unfortunately, the bill jettisons long-overdue payment limitation reforms included in both the House and Senate bills passed last year that target farm subsidy payments to working farmers. It also drops a provision passed twice by the Senate that would have modestly reduced insurance subsidies to millionaires. Additionally, the bill cuts billions from conservation programs that help farmers address production challenges and protect natural resources and the environment. The final bill also reduces benefits for a portion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants.

“At a time of fiscal restraint, growing income inequality, and economic distress in rural communities, it is appalling for the new Farm Bill to continue uncapped, unlimited commodity and crop insurance subsidies for mega-farms,” said Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). NSAC is an alliance of grassroots sustainable agriculture organizations, including OEFFA, that advocates for federal policy reform.

“This Farm Bill falls short of achieving the changes needed to support a sustainable food and farm system, and the secretive process used to achieve this agreement which reverses reforms backed in previous Senate and House versions of the bill is very disappointing,” Bailey added. “However, given that our farming communities have been without a full Farm Bill for so long and the importance of the organic and conservation programs at stake, we support the bill, but will continue to work for reform.”

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Farm Bill as soon as tomorrow, and the Senate vote is anticipated shortly after, before going to the President for his signature.