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Farm Bill: 2 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back

Georgia Organics and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Press Release.

January 28, 2014, Atlanta, GA – The farm bill reported by the joint 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 does renew critical investments in important programs for beginning farmers, local food systems, organic agriculture, and healthy food access, and also relinks conservation requirements to the receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies.  The final bill also rejects a series of extreme proposals to eliminate market and contract protections for livestock and poultry farmers.

Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics, said, “We were fortunate to work with Rep. Austin Scott, who has shown support for funding for organic certification, programs that help the next generation of farmers, and programs that promote farmers markets.”

“We are pleased that the bill renews support for innovative programs that invest in the next generation of farmers, the growth of local and organic agriculture, and economic opportunity in rural communities,” said Ariane Lotti, Assistant Policy Director with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “These programs have been needlessly on hold for the past year, and farmers and communities have been left in the lurch as a result.”

Georgia Organics is a member of the NSAC.

The bill crafted by the conference committee fails to limit insurance subsidies to millionaires and does not include long-overdue payment limits, which were passed by both the House and Senate.

Additionally, the bill cuts billions from the very 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 SNAP (food stamp) 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).  “The backroom deal to reverse the reforms backed by a bipartisan majority of the both the House and the Senate is an affront to the democratic process.”

“Georgia is caught in a paradox. We produce plenty of food – the state is No. 1 for chicken production, and 6th for overall vegetable production.  Yet, of the $20 billion Georgians spend on food each year, $16 billion is going to out of state producers,” said Rolls. “There is a simple solution. A 2010 University of Georgia study found that if Georgia households spent $10 per week on local foods, it would generate $1.9 billion for the state.”

“We do not endorse the process that has led to completion of this farm bill nor do we think it represents the 21st century policy we need to support a sustainable farm and food system,” Lotti added.  “However, given a lengthy two-and-a-half year process and the importance of renewing funding for the most innovative programs for the future of agriculture, we support moving forward but will continue to work for the real reform this bill lacks.”

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