By Adam Warthesen, Land Stewardship Project
On April 26, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2012 Farm Bill by a vote of 16 to 5. The bill, which includes $23 billion in cuts over the next 10 years, is anticipated to be brought to the Senate floor for a vote yet this year. What is abundantly clear in review of the bill is that the legislation lacks the investments and reforms needed to propel agriculture forward in a sustainable and responsible matter. By the basic measures of whether this legislation fosters a family farm system of agriculture and provides for adequate stewardship of our nation’s farmland and natural resources, the answer is regrettably, no.
Key examples of where this bill falls short include:
- Over $6 billion in cuts to voluntary conservation programs are unwise and excessive. This is especially true in this time of intense pressure on American farmland with strong crop and livestock prices demanding more from every farmer and every acre.
- The failure to link conservation compliance to crop insurance benefits is inexcusable. As a result of this failure, federally subsidized crop insurance does not require the same rigor as other farm programs — where farmers are required to maintain healthy soil and water on their land as a condition of receiving public support.
- Furthermore, the Senate bill will worsen economic disparities in agriculture. The bill fuels a runaway train of federally subsidized crop insurance, which removes risk for massive commodity operations and expands their ability to increase land holdings at the expense of family farmers. Even as the bill takes some steps forward in the commodity title, it still guarantees revenue protections for massive commodity production, which is a major step backwards.
- The fact that this bill cuts $4 billion from programs that help hungry people in need of food assistance is unacceptable. As our communities rebuild from one of the worst economic crises in memory, this in not how our country should respond.
- The bill also misses an historic opportunity to support thousands of beginning farmers and ranchers wanting to enter agriculture, and cuts deeply into the needs of minority farmers. Compared to the 2008 Farm Bill, the Senate cut the effective Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program by as much as 47 percent annually, and will result in less assistance, training and support for new farmers. The 2501 Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farms and Rancher Program was reduced by as much as 73 percent annually.
We commend the Committee for including a “sod saver” provision that aims to protect land which has not been cropped or is in native prairie, as well as some commodity program reforms that better target and improve eligibility requirements for these programs.
The Land Stewardship Project believes it is important to address and improve the measures noted above. Our organization is committed to work with policymakers on changes that can make farm policy more equitable, accountable and sound for the future. There is still time for change.