The Farm Bill represents billions of dollars in government expenditures that set the farm, food, and rural policy goals and priorities for the United States. ASBC is pleased that Congress has passed a farm bill that links our food and farm systems and provides a future for Farm and Nutrition Programs. Although not all aspects of the Farm Bill are favorable, ASBC is in support of the provisions that assist rural communities, expand the production of organic food and provide credit and technical assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers and small businesses. ASBC continues to see the Farm Bill as an opportunity to support equity, economic opportunity, and access across all aspects of the nation’s agriculture system
The final bill was passed by the Senate on February 4, 2014, and was signed by President Obama on February 7th.
Initiated in 1916, The Farm Bill is typically reauthorized every five years. The 2008 Farm Bill cost more than $288 billion over a five-year period. In 2012, the House failed to pass a companion version of the Senate bill; as a result, the 2008 Farm Bill was extended until September 2013. The Farm Bill has a major impact on farmers, consumers, rural communities, the natural environment, the 40-plus million people receiving food assistance, and global agribusiness. The Farm Bill provides opportunities for small-mid size farmers in terms of loan opportunities, research funding, and other valuable resources needed to survive as an agriculture stakeholder in the upcoming years. The 2014 Farm Bill will cost $956.4 billion over 10 years.
The final version of the 2014 Farm Bill included some areas of particular interest to ASBC. ASBC supports policies that support sustainable agriculture in local communities, as well as ensuring that new farmers and markets get the support they need to ensure a reliable and healthy food supply while expanding their economic base.
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program:
- The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) is administered by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds education, extension, outreach, and technical assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers. The current Farm Bill will fund the program at $20 million from 2014-2018, but has cut funding to support socially disadvantaged farmers (from 25% to 5%). Moving forward, ASBC supports increased funding in this area.
- The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) was created to provide opportunities for small businesses by giving them access to capital as well as much-needed technical assistance. This program boosts development in rural areas, creates jobs, and strengthens rural communities. The program will allocate $3 million a year for these small business ventures.
- The Outreach and Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, which provides grants and technical assistance through community based organizations and minority-serving institutions, was reauthorized and expanded to include veteran farmers and ranchers. Funding for this program was cut in half to $10 million annually, making it more difficult to meet the critical needs of these groups.
- States were granted authority under the Farm Service Agency microloan program to distribute loans up to the new maximum of $50,000 (increased from $35,000) with lower documentation standards. This will allow beginning farmers and ranchers more access to funding to grow their business. This program has become more streamlined, requiring less paperwork for farmers to fill out appropriately reflecting the smaller loan amount options.
While there were some victories, particularly for small business and beginning farmers and ranchers, the Farm Bill maintains the status quo of agriculture policy in the U.S. The bill continues to favor agribusiness, monocrops and genetic engineering over family and sustainable crops. The bill also continues to support a diet of over-processed foods high in fat, sugar, and salt while leaving little support for specialized crops such as fruits and vegetables.
ASBC urges the President to sign the bill and for the USDA to expeditiously implement rules that allow producers and communities to access the many important programs that were delayed due to the negotiations over the Farm Bill over the last two and a half years. ASBC does not support the lengthy process it took to complete the Farm Bill; however, we do applaud Congress for funding programs to ensure the future of agriculture in the United States by granting access to small business and beginning farmers and ranchers.