Saturday, November 5, 2011

2012 Farm Bill Process is Heating Up

The Community and Regional Food Systems Project supported by the University of Wisconsin- Madison, Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, Growing Power, and UW-Extension recently offered a webinar on the Food and Farm Bill, why it is important to our local food systems, and some related key legislation which has recently been released. I summarize the process below, and suggest the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition as an important resource for follow-up information, resources, and links.

The Farm Bill, now being referred to as the Food and Farm Bill, is a collection of legislation which affects how Americans access, produce, sell and distribute food.  From school nutrition, to grants for beginning farmers, food stamps and farmers markets, the Food and Farm Bill touches all of us in some way.  Legislation included under the Farm Bill is re-authorized (i.e. reviewed and updated) every 4-6 years, with 2012 being the next “scheduled” reauthorization.  However, there are a few other things happening politically which may delay Farm Bill re-authorization next year.  First, 2012 is a presidential election year, which historically has meant its difficult to push through any major legislation.  Secondly, the country is in a budget crisis and congress has commissioned the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (referred to as the “Super Committee”) to identify over $1 trillion in cuts from the Federal budget.  The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have promised to offer $23 billion in cuts from the Farm Bill - this was expected to be finalized November 1st, but as of yesterday, no final Bill has been agreed upon.  

Meanwhile, two other “marker bills” have been released in the past two weeks which hope to be included in the newly authorized Farm Bill legislation. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 increases or sustains funding for young and/or beginning farmers by supporting programs such as: beginning farmer microloans, conservation and environmental quality loans, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development grant program. This bill was introduced to the House on October 25th by Representatives Tim Waltz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and others are expected to introduce a similar bill to the Senate early next week.  The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act was introduced November 1st in both branches of congress by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1).  This legislation supports the development of local and regional food systems by focusing on: production, processing, marketing and distribution for both producers and consumers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition offers a detailed summary bill here:

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