Farm Bill Signed - But Not Yet Sealed or Delivered!

This spring Congress passed the 2002 Farm Bill, signed by the President on May 13th. The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture does not support the bill because we feel the huge subsidies for the biggest farming and factory livestock operations are glaring examples of corporate welfare policy that will hurt farm and ranch communities, workers, consumers, and the environment. Nonetheless, the sustainable agriculture movement achieved some major victories and had a profound impact on the quality of the farm bill debate.

The issues that were the biggest source of debate -- real payment limitations, contract agriculture reforms, prohibition against large meatpacker ownership of livestock, the important new Conservation Security Program -- were our issues and the fact that they were included in the Senate farm bill and that they survived in the House-Senate Farm Bill conference committee until the very end demonstrates that this movement is now a force to be reckoned with.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. In the past, the powers that be would have so dominated the agenda that we could not have gotten these core structural issues onto the table in the first place. Perhaps the most significant revelation of this farm bill debate is that our movement has real power, and it is growing.

2002 Farm Bill Victories

Conservation Security Program: The Conservation Security Program will be established as an entitlement program, making it the first conservation program to be on par with commodity programs (i.e., if a farmer or rancher qualifies, she or he can participate in the program). This visionary new farm program rewards stewardship of working land by farmers and ranchers of all types based on the practices used and environmental benefits derived.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Provisions: The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program has been established, but we'll have to fight for funding every year. The farm bill also reforms the credit title to improve programs for beginning farmers and ranchers, and it includes cost-share assistance to help beginning farmers and ranchers participate in conservation programs.

Value-Added Market Development Program: This is a grants program to help small and mid-size farms increase their farm income through value-added strategies. Hard-won language was adopted to allow how an item is produced (e.g. grass-fed, free-range, organic, etc.) to qualify as value-added.

Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling: This program calls for the labeling of meat, fruits, vegetables, peanuts and farm raised fish by its country of origin to allow U.S. consumers to know the origin of their food. Labeling will be voluntary this year and next but will then become mandatory.

Food Stamps for Legal Immigrants: The farm bill guarantees restoration of food stamp benefits to legal immigrants.

USDA Equity and Justice Reforms: The farm bill authorizes creation of a USDA Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and puts in place important reforms for County Committee election procedures. The USDA will be required to better track and evaluate participation by limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers in its programs.

Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers: Funding was increased for Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, historically black land-grant colleges and other minority-serving land-grant institutions. National Organic Certification Cost Share Program: Designed to help defray the costs of certification for farmers who want to be "certified organic" under the National Organic Program, this program is funded at $5 million total.

Marketing Order and Promotion Order Reform for Organic Producers: Producers who are 100% organic are now exempt from participating in promotion check-off programs. Also, a report will evaluate the potential contributions and benefits of organic producers and handlers in current research and promotion programs, and federal marketing orders.

International Organic Research Collaboration: This will give farmers, land grant researchers and the public access to organic research conducted outside of U.S.

Community Food Projects: These will receive $5 million in mandatory funding per year, including planning and support for a national clearinghouse on "Innovative Programs to Address Common Community Problems."

Purchase of Locally Produced Foods: Institutions participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs are encouraged to purchase local foods where practicable. A seed grant fund was authorized at $400,000 for 200 institutions.

Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs (FMNP): The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) FMNP will receive an additional $15 million in the current fiscal year, bringing the total to $25 million. This will allow current states and tribes to expand their programs and potentially allow five new jurisdictions to join the FMNP. The Senior FMNP is authorized for the full six years of the bill, with mandatory funding of $15 million per year. For fiscal year 2002, an additional $5 million will be provided which will bring this year's total to $15 million. However, the long-term funding of the WIC FMNP remains in jeopardy.

Farmworker Assistance: Removes restrictions on the amount of money that can be put into emergency grants to assist low-income migrant and seasonal farm workers in the case of disasters. Up to $10 million dollars has been authorized for grants to nonprofit organizations, coalitions, and institutions to train farmworkers in skills necessary for high value crops.

Farmers Market Promotion Program: The Farmers Market Promotion Program will make grants to eligible entities to establish, expand, and promote farmers' markets.

So now, at long last, the farm bill process is over -- or is it? Actually, legislation is just the first step in achieving public policy goals. Equally important to ensuring that legislation lives up to its full potential is broad-based, consistent public participation in rulemaking, implementation and annual funding for programs. We are turning immediately to critical next steps -- see our website at http://www.sustainableagriculture.net for updates and to get involved.

See other articles from this issue: #101 July - August - 2002