Farm bills come around about twice a decade and are one of those things that sound totally innocuous until you actually look at them and you see how far-reaching and destructive they can be. Why are Americans fat? Blame farm bills for throwing money at cheap calories and corn. Why do all the farms in the midwest grow corn and soy and not vegetables for local markets? Blame the farm bill.
And this bill, coming at the apex of election season, will be worse than ever.
The Worst Farm Bill Ever? | Mother Jones
The Senate Agriculture Committee is currently cobbling together its farm bill proposal, Hoefner says. "What happens in the next four weeks [in the Sentate Ag committee] will largely determine what's going to happen in this farm bill, regardless of whether it finishes this year," he said. That's because the Senate version will represent what Hoefner calls the bill's "high water mark" in terms of progressive policy. When the Senate bill goes to the the budget-slashing House for reconciliation—whenever that reconciliation actually takes place—it will likely be pushed in more regressive, Big Ag-friendly directions.
Hoefner broke down the key issues for me one by one.
• Progressive food and ag programs on the chopping block. For decades, groups like Hoefner's have worked hard to create a set of programs designed to at least partially offset US farm policy's tendency to bolster Big Ag. The programs, which the Obama Administration in 2009 grouped under the banner of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, include initiatives designed to assist new farmers to get loans help communities roll out farmers markets, and reduce costs for farms to transition to organic.
Taken as a whole, Hoefner says, the programs amount to about $175 million per year—less than 1 percent of the non-food stamps portion of the farm bill. "These programs make up an extremely modest portion of the farm bill's budget, but they've had a large impact on communities nationwide," Hoefner said. Hoefner pointed to a wide-ranging recent USDA study documenting positive impact of the programs.
And now they're all on the block, Hoefner says. The issue is that these programs won mandatory funding in the 2008 farm bill, but will lose that status on Sept. 30. If Congress does manage to pass a new farm bill by the deadline, there will be strong push to kill the programs in the name of fiscal rectitude. (GOP stalwarts like ag committee member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) are already taking aim at Know Your Farmer.) And if Congress fails to put together a new farm bill and instead temporarily extends the old one, the programs will likely languish unfunded, stripped of their "mandatory" status. And if that happens, it will be extremely difficult to revive fuding for them when Congress finally does get around to passing a new farm bill.
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