A Guide to the 2007 Farm Bill

An opportunity to create food policy that makes a commitment to sustainable agriculture and ecosystem protection.

The following summary was adapted from “Rural Updates,” the online newsletter of Defenders of Wildlife. They encourage readers to subscribe to “Rural Updates” at: www.familyfarmer.org/sections/ruralsubscribe.html .

The Farm Bill is reauthorized every five years, and 2007 happens to be one of those years. We now have the opportunity to influence change and to create food policy that makes a commitment to sustainable agriculture and ecosystem protection. One that provides healthy food choices for all Americans. And one that recognizes the value and importance of family farms and takes action to protect rural communities.

Let’s work together to support agriculture that is good for people and the land! Following is a special “Farm Bill 101” guide, prepared by Lisa Hummon and geared to help you become better versed in all matters agricultural.

Deciding the future of agriculture

Today in America we face a number of crises that are tied to a single national policy that almost no one has heard of: the Farm Bill. From the loss of family farms to the obesity epidemic, the Farm Bill is the origin of our ability, or lack thereof, to deal with and mitigate these problems.

At $20 billion per year, the Farm Bill is one of the largest taxpayer-supported bills. But where does all that money go? The bill is broken up into a handful of “titles,” each with a specific focus and separate funding levels.

The Commodity Title:

Nearly half of the funding in the Farm Bill goes to the commodity title. In essence, these programs provide subsidies to growers of wheat, corn, upland cotton, rice, and soybeans. Subsidies lower prices, which might seem good for consumers, but it distorts the market, causes consolidation of agribusinesses, and encourages farmers to only grow one or two crops year after year, which requires intense chemical use and production on sensitive land. The real winners are the commodity buyers (livestock feeders, producers of high-fructose corn syrup, etc.) who get their raw materials from farmers well below the actual cost of production, while taxpayers make up the difference. With this policy, agribusiness profits have skyrocketed while family farms continue to disappear from the landscape.

The Conservation Title:

Forty percent of threatened and endangered species are found only on private or state lands. That makes agricultural land incredibly important for conservation efforts. Farmers and ranchers all across America are participating in programs including the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Conservation Security Program (CSP), and Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program (FRPP). These programs seek to recover imperiled species, protect habitat, conserve natural resources, and protect farmland threatened with urban encroachment.

The Nutrition Title:

Hunger is a huge problem in America. But even when people have resources for food, it might not be nutritious. Some of the poorest neighborhoods don’t have a single grocery store, and residents are forced to eat fast food. Situations like this are exacerbating the obesity epidemic. The nutrition title seeks to address these problems with funding for the Food Stamp Program and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Program, which enable mothers to buy fresh produce at farmers markets. There is also funding to supply food banks and soup kitchens with much needed food, and for public schools to buy local produce.

The Energy Title:

With the reality of climate change and the growing instability of the fossil fuel market, our nation is looking for new solutions to meet our energy needs. The energy title provides funding for biomass energy research, funds for producers of ethanol and biodiesel, and grants for farmers and ranchers who want to switch to green energy for their operations.

The Rural Development Title:

The rural development title provides funding for rural firefighters and emergency personnel and for wastewater treatment plants. It also helps farmers and ranchers “add-value” to their business through tourism and marketing. These programs help meet the basic needs of rural communities and help ensure long term viability of farms and ranches.

The Funding Gap:

Despite the fact that the conservation, nutrition, energy, and rural development titles provide us with innumerable public benefits such as healthy ecosystems, food security, clean energy solutions, and viable family farms, these titles combined only receive a fifth of the funding provided to the commodity title. Furthermore, the Farm Bill sets a cap on funding levels for these programs. It is then up to Congress to decide how much the programs will actually get during the annual appropriations process. Year after year Congress fails to fully fund these vitally important programs.

_Scotty Johnson, Aimee Delach and Lisa Hummon
National Rural Community Outreach Campaign, Defenders of Wildlife_
[email protected], www.familyfarmer.org

Other websites with ideas and information on the Farm Bill:

Community Food Security Coalition: www.foodsecurity.org

National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture:
www.sustainableagriculture.net

National Family Farm Coalition:
www.nffc.net

See other articles from this issue: #130 May - June - 2007