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So, You Want to Learn More About the Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is a big deal. It provides funding and programmatic direction for dozens and dozens of USDA and nutrition programs, all of which combine to form one of the largest, central components of the United States’ food system.

The Farm Bill is the vehicle for funding and implementing all SNAP (formerly food stamps), crop insurance, and conservation programs, among many others.

Pictured left, from left to right, Dan Glenn, Julia Asherman, Larry Smith, Andrew Bahrenburg, and Rep. Austin Scott.

Quick Overview

Some quick tips on the Farm Bill:

  • It’s supposed to be renewed every four years.
  • The last one was worth $956 billion, with about 80 percent of that funding going towards nutrition programs, primarily SNAP.
  • It contains all of the good stuff we love about the USDA, like EQIP, CSP, CRP, and beginning farmer and rancher development programs.
  • It also contains the crop insurance program and programs that supplement crop insurance. The programs, typically lumped together and commonly referred to as crop subsidies, are additional payments to growers to help reduce price volatility and help out during extended periods of low prices.

Go Deep

Look, the great folks at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are much more knowledgeable about this Farm Bill stuff than we are, so I recommend that, if you want to nerd out on everything Farm Bill, you start with this primer.

But to clarify, Georgia Organics, as an organization and as a movement that includes your participation, most definitely has a role to play this go round.

We are active members of NSAC, and regularly connect farmers from Georgia with members of Congress, either in Washington, D.C. or here in Georgia during Congressional recesses.

Georgia Matters

In fact, Georgia is in an uniquely advantageous position now, in that many of the power brokers around agriculture are from Georgia, including  Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Farm Bureau President Zippy Duval, Rep. Sanford Bishop (who is a member of the House Appropriations committee, and the ranking member of the subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development), and Rep. Austin Scott (who chairs the House Ag subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit).

Georgia is also represented on the House Ag Committee by Reps. Rick Allen and David Scott.

What is Georgia Organics doing on the Farm Bill?

On Aug. 15, 2017, Georgia Organics helped out the National Young Farmers Coalition with a round table discussion with Rep. Austin Scott and several Georgia Organics family members, including Julia Asherman of Rag N Frass Farm, Bobby Jones and Chelsea Losh of Babe and Sage Farm, Dan Glenn with Deep Grass Graziers, and Donn Cooper, of Cooper Agricultural Services.

With about 30 attendees, Rep. Scott and the distinguished panel discussed a wide variety of Farm Bill issues, including:

Rural Development  – is farming a way to bring economic vitality back to rural Georgia?

Beginning farmers and ranchers – Rep. Scott voiced his support for that program (and he defended it on the floor of Congress during the 2012 Farm Bill debates)

Supporting Black/African American/historically socially disenfranchised farmers – Rep. Scott said he wouldn’t support a program based on race, but did say he supported the OAO 2501 Program, which does provide additional resources to socially disadvantaged growers and veterans.

Scott was also confronted by growers on a very touchy, non-Farm Bill issue: health insurance. In the past, Rep. Scott has supported general Republican efforts to roll back the Affordable Health Care Act, and many growers, especially our outspoken friend Asherman, wanted to chat with the Congressman about that unwelcome position.

All in all, it was a night that provided the typical airing of farmers’ grievances, but one that did lean towards the organic farmer’s message, thanks to the great work of farmers in the Middle Georgia area. We are especially grateful to the National Young Farmer Coalition for allowing Georgia Organics to team up with them for such a successful event.

Coming up

Georgia Organics Director of Farmer Services Michael Wall is scheduled to meet again with Reps. Austin Scott, David Scott, and Sanford Bishop in the month of November in Washington, D.C. He is also set to meet with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue during the same trip. For the most part, he’ll be asking them to strengthen their support of the beginning farmer and rancher development program, the National Organic Program, and USDA’s Rural Development and NRCS programs, which seem to be in the crosshairs of some folks in D.C. these days.

Georgia Organics is now a member of the Farmer Advisory Council to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which is the membership based business association for organic agriculture and organic products in North America. It’s an industry trade group in other words, and organics is now big business, which, with its pros and cons, is another conversation altogether.

We have a lot in common with goals of the OTA, especially when it comes to the Farm Bill. You can read their Farm Bill priorities here. We really like their emphasis on needing more funding going to organic research, risk management, especially when it comes to expanding organic’s eligibility within rural development programs.

Like us, OTA considers organic agriculture to be an engine of economic development.

We’ll also be hosting an important session on the Farm Bill at our upcoming conference Feb. 16-17, 2018, in Augusta.

Stay tuned for that and much, much more Farm Bill info this fall.

 

Further Reading:

NSAC’s Farm Bill basics.

Wendell Berry and others on the 50-Year Farm Bill

More by Wendell Berry on the Farm Bill

Sign up for Politico’s Morning Agriculture emails.

A Holistic Look at Farm Bill

 

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