This article by Kathleen Bauer first appeared in Good Stuff NW on January 14, 2019
Months of “jockeying, hand wringing, and horse trading, largely behind closed doors” according to Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, came to a close recently as the Farm Bill, the sweeping agriculture and nutrition legislation that comes up for renewal every five years, passed the House by a vote of 369 to 47. It was largely stripped of Republican demands for work requirements for people receiving food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), which had stalled the bill for months.
The bill that was passed largely continues the agricultural subsidies of previous bills, which are predominantly claimed by large corporate farms, and added a provision that said any member of an extended family who runs a “family farm” can annually receive $125,000 in subsidies ($250,000 if they are married) if they provide “active personal management only,” even from afar, according to an article from Taxpayers for Common Sense. This basically redefines a family farm as a managed operation where the manager doesn’t even have to set foot on the farm in order to collect government subsidies, a clear boon to corporate-owned and industrial operations.
Blumenauer was one of three Democrats to oppose the bill, stating in a press release that it “pays too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong foods in the wrong places.” He called it “a missed opportunity to make real improvements for farmers, the climate, and the food we eat every single day.” The Oregon congressman has instead been pushing for what he calls the “Food and Farm Act,“ an alternative bill that comprehensively advances reforms on four principles: (1) focusing resources on those who need it most; (2) fostering innovation; (3) encouraging investments in people and the planet; and (4) ensuring access to healthy foods.
A different view of the revised Farm Bill was presented by Matthew Dillon, senior director of agricultural policy and programs for Clif Bar & Company, in an op-ed he wrote for The Hill, a Washington, DC-based news outlet. Declaring that the bill as passed is a victory for the future of organic agriculture in the U.S., Dillon pointed to the fact that the bill “for the first time establishes permanent funding for organic research by authorizing $50 million in annual funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative by the year 2023.” The $50 million figure makes the program “baseline” or mandatory in the United States Department of Agriculture budget, creating more stability for organic researchers and farmers, he wrote.
“Demand for organic agriculture far outstrips supply, causing our country to import many organic crops that could be produced domestically,” Dillon stated. “Capturing the more profitable value of organic production for American farmers is particularly important at a time when net farm incomes across the country have fallen down to the lowest level in 12 years, declining more than 14 percent this year, and showing little sign of turnaround.”
Believing that support for organic research is critical in helping farmers transitioning to organic production, Dillon wrote that the guarantee of funding will aid farmers in keeping up with the most effective techniques for soil fertility and pest management. While he admitted that the farm bill will always have room for improvement, “this landmark new gain of stable funding for organic research is critical to the survival of organic farms and the expansion of organic acreage. It is good for rural communities, good for farmers, and good for the planet.”
Blumenauer, for his part, takes both political parties and the Congress to task for its business-as-usual approach to the Farm Bill. “Every day that we continue the status quo, we delay improving and enriching communities, and helping families live healthier lives,” he stated. “We can and must do better to help increase access to healthy food for all families. This final bill fundamentally misses the mark on addressing critical reforms that communities across the country desperately need. Americans deserve a Farm Bill that works for them and their families—not corporate mega-farms. I will continue to lead the opposition to the current Farm Bill structure, fighting instead for a better outcome for all Americans.”