Congress is talking about your food and you need to join the conversation! The process of writing a new federal farm bill has begun giving us a once-in-every-five-year opportunity to shape the policies and programs that serve our local farmers.
The federal farm bill is a large and complex piece of legislation that governs everything from low-income feeding programs to farmland conservation and crop insurance. The federal farm bill is increasingly important to our members and to our region. Investments in a strong local and regional food system, new opportunities for beginning farmers, a safety net for our small and mid-sized dairy farmers, farmland conservation, and support for organic agriculture, are all authorized, funded and fundamentally shaped by this all encompassing piece of federal legislation.
The current farm bill, passed in 2008 expires in September of 2012. The process of writing a new five-year farm bill is well underway and NEFU has been fully engaged. Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have held hearings to solicit input from farmers and farm organizations including the National Farmers Union on what should be in the new bill. NEFU has brought the voices of New England farmers to Washington, D.C. through farmer fly ins. We have communicated our priorities to our Congressional delegations.
Winning a farm bill that truly serves the interests of New England will require active farmer engagement. By joining NEFU, you are supporting an organization that can speak for you in Washington, D.C. By signing up for our action alerts and our newsletter you can stay informed and engage policy makers at crucial moments. There are three simple steps toward a better farm bill: Join Up! Sign Up! And Speak Up!
New England Farmers Union Priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill
1. Local and Regional Food Systems
New England’s diversified agriculture and fisheries provide many opportunities for regional economic development. NEFU supports efforts to grow, process and distribute agricultural and fish products for local and regional consumption. Investments in the local and regional food system can open new markets to small and mid-sized farmers and fisherman, create new jobs and improve access to fresh fruits, fish and vegetables for consumers. This farm bill should:
- Support co-operative development as a business model for producing, aggregating, processing and retailing local and regional food products;
- Provide Farm Services Agency credit to farmers and ranchers producing for local and regional food markets, to mid-tier value chains, and to local and regional food producers engaged in value-added enterprises;
- Direct Farm Credit Services to implement a program of credit for farmers and ranchers producing for local and regional markets;
- Provide mandatory funding for the Value Added Producer Grant Program at a level of $30 million a year;
- Provide mandatory funding for a Local Marketing Promotion Program (Farmers Market Promotion Program) at a level of $50 million; include new assistance for producers scaling up to wholesale and institutional markets;
- Increase mandatory funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program to $90 million and allocate $30 million to local and regional farm and food system specialty crop development within each State; include maple syrup, cereal grains produced for human consumption and seafood in the definition of a specialty crop;
- Increase lending available through the Business and Industry Loan program to support local and regional food infrastructure including the expansion of meat processing facilities.
- Authorize the interstate sale of state inspected meat where state inspection is equal to federal inspection standards and provide scale appropriate technical assistance to small and very small meat processing plants;
- Develop a whole farm revenue insurance product appropriate to small and mid-sized diversified farms.
- Allow rural development funds to be used in urban and periurban locations as long as the primary beneficiaries are agricultural producers and rural employees.
- Require the Food and Nutrition Service to support Electronic Benefit Transfer access for farmers markets, CSAs, CSFs, and farm stands to the same extent it does grocery and retail stores;
- Allow schools to use 15% of their commodity dollars for purchases of local and regional foods in lieu of commodities;
We strongly support the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 1773 H.R. 3286) and urge its inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.
2. A Dairy Policy for New England
While the overall numbers of farms have grown in New England by 17% from 2001 to 2010, the number of dairy farms has continued its steep descent. We lost 890 dairy farms (33%) in New England over the same period.
Dairy still accounts for about 30% of all of our agricultural receipts and generated $721 million in 2010. Dairy farms in New England are agriculture’s anchor tenants. They keep our landscape working and our farm service providers and farm supply retailers in business. Dairy remains at the core of our system of agriculture in New England and at the heart of our rural economies. Reforms to the current mechanisms of federal dairy pricing, risk management and the safety net must help us to maintain the family farm dairies so vital to our New England economy, food security and landscape. In this farm bill:
- Safety net programs including margin insurance programs should target or concentrate benefits on the first 4 to 5 million pounds of production.
- Safety net programs should reflect regional needs and costs of production. The minimum market order price should be based on the regional cost of production that considers a range of production methods, farm sizes, feed (pasture, forage/silage, purchased feed) and marketing strategies
- Dairy policy reforms should include an effective market stabilization program.
- Support conservation, risk management, farm viability, and other programs that assist diary farmers to diversify, add value and or transition to grazing, organic or other production practices that reduce financial risk.
3. Conservation and Renewable Energy
New England farmers take great pride in providing a safe and healthy product while contributing to the health of our region through their care of the land. We support working lands conservation programs that help farmers to improve soil and water quality, reduce energy consumption and the use of pesticides. This farm bill should:
- Maintain the Conservation Stewardship Program as a green payments program that recognizes the ongoing and multifunctional environmental benefits of sustainable and organic agriculture and is appropriate to our region and scale of farming;
- Maintain a regional equity provision that establishes a minimum allocation to each state for conservation program spending;
- Maintain mandatory funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and conservation technical assistance with increased emphasis on management intensive grazing and organic transition; maintain funding for the organic initiative;
- Maintain mandatory funding for the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program and carve out a priority for projects that create new farming opportunities, that utilize an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value, or that include a farm succession plan; if consolidation of conservation programs is necessary, FRPP should be consolidated with other working lands programs;
- Require conservation compliance for all recipients of subsidized crop insurance.
- Maintain the Biomass Crop Assistance Program as a means of transitioning biofuel production towards more cellulosic feed stocks including forestry products;
- Maintain the Renewable Energy for America Program.
4. Organic Agriculture
Organic farming is a management-intensive approach to farming designed to emulate natural systems in producing crops and livestock and it is an increasingly important option for New England farmers. The organic price premium has provided many of our small and mid sized farms with an improved economic outlook. The 2008 Organic Survey counted 1,232 organic farmers in the 6 New England states with 111,504 acres under active organic production. In 2008, these farms had total organic sales of $135,615,000. This farm bill should:
- Provide mandatory funding for Organic Certification Cost Share at a level of $30 million per year and raise the payment cap from $750 to $1,000;
- Eliminate premium and price discrimination for organic producers in crop insurance programs;
- Increase funding for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative to $30 million annually;
- Provide $5 million in mandatory funding for the Organic Data Initiative;
- Authorize cooperative agreements between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and qualified non-governmental organizations to provide training in organic practices to NRCS staff;
- Fund a new research initiative to develop public seeds and breeds that are locally adapted to address regional needs and the climates of each region;
- Any review of the federal milk marketing order process should consider whether organic dairy should have its own milk marketing order.
5. Beginning Farmers
The future of agriculture in New England will be shaped by the opportunities we provide today to new farmers. The 2007 Census of Agriculture, however, indicates that the percentage of beginning farmers – those in their current farming operation for less than 10 years – has declined steadily and by more than 10% since 1982. Considering that more than half of all principal farm operators in the Northeast are nearing (or exceeding) retirement age we can and must do a better job of launching the next generation. This farm bill should:
- Reauthorize the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and increase mandatory funding levels; include support to educate non-farming and absentee landowners;
- Provide mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account Pilot Program;
- Increase authorization levels for direct and guaranteed Farm Services Agency lending programs; re-emphasize technical assistance to beginning farmers; and authorize FSA to make intermediate, flexible micro loans to new producers;
- Encourage greater involvement and investment and more secure tenure agreements through tax incentives or disincentives and/or other measures;
- Within the Farmland Protection Program, provide a funding priority to easements with an option to purchase at agricultural value; easements that transfer conserved land to a beginning farmer; or to a farmer with a succession plan.
We strongly support the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (S. 1850 H.R. 3236) and urge its inclusion in the farm bill.