A Farm Bill Report Card

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On Friday, the U.S. Senate finished floor consideration of the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007, more commonly known as the 2007 Farm Bill. The Land Stewardship Project sees the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill as a mixed bag: it contains many windfalls for corporate agriculture interests, but also offers glimmers of hope towards developing a more environmentally sound and economically just food and agriculture system.

Throughout the past year, LSP has been carrying forward a platform calling for further development of the Conservation Security Program and significant commodity reform. LSP has also worked for enactment of a New Farm Initiative: a set of policies that support beginning farmers and local and regional based food systems.

The high point of the Senate Bill is the strengthening of the Conservation Security Program (CSP), a working lands conservation effort. Under Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) leadership, CSP, which is now referred to as the Conservation Stewardship Program, will be implemented nationwide and available to all farmers with a goal of enrolling 13.3 million acres each year. Funding was increased nearly $2 billion to a total of $4.8 billion over the next five years.

The low point of the Senate bill is the lack of any meaningful commodity title reform. Even modest payment limits proposed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to cap commodity payments per producer at $250,000 and close loopholes exploited by corporate agribusiness, failed despite a 56 to 43 vote in favor. As a result of procedural rules agreed upon by leadership, amendments needed 60 votes to be accepted. Savings from the Grassley-Dorgan amendment would have been shifted to critical beginning farmer, conservation, nutrition and rural development programs. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) voted for the Grassley-Dorgan effort as well as her own commodity reform amendment, while Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) voted against both amendments.

While the Senate Bill did include some minor support for beginning farmer provisions, it failed to provided mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which supports community-based beginning farmer and rancher training, education and mentoring efforts. The House Bill passed in July contained $15 million per year for the BFRDP, thanks to the leadership of Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) and House Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN). Also absent was any funding for the Value-Added Producer Grants Program.

Other measures included in the Senate Farm Bill were a stronger Livestock Title and dedicated funding to local food procurement efforts such as the Community Food Project Grants Program.

Now that the House and Senate have finished their respective versions of the Farm Bill, a joint House/Senate conference committee is expected to meet in early 2008 to finalize the Congressional Farm Bill to be sent to President Bush and eventually signed into law. For more on LSP’s analysis of the Senate and House Farm Bills, see our House/Senate Farm Bill Report Card.

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