Hello dear readers. I hope you fared the electoral season well enough. A lot of things happened and a lot of hot air was wasted. Sadly, American politics is a never ending bread and circus and this time farmers are the likely to be held hostage to partisan gridlock. Without a new farm bill by the end of the year, we’ll end up with the horribly outdated 1949 farm bill, which might look pretty ugly.
A lot of work was done to get a farm bill ready for the expiration of the 2008 farm bill (which happened on September 30th). The US House of Representatives managed to write a farm bill, but never let it get to the floor for a vote.
The Senate’s version of the 2012 farm bill would contain one of the most important breakthroughs for farmers that are interested in holistic farm planning. The bill includes “whole-farm revenue insurance” which would allow large farmers to move away from the five commodity crops that are currently insured under federal programs (corn, wheat, soy, rice and cotton). Whole farm insurance would give producers a lot more flexibility and allow them to help diversify our food system. It would also be the first time that farmers could insure integrated crop-livestock systems.
Whole-farm revenue crop insurance has its own problems of course. Hearings in the Senate (covered by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) highlighted the difficulties beginning farmers have taking advantage of these programs, especially in their first year when they have no track record on which to base future yield predictions. It’s also a little unclear how hard it would be for small farmers to take advantage of this program.
There’s one small problem with getting the farm bill passed. The House of Representatives would have to pass a bill during the upcoming two-week lame-duck session (I think they start on Nov. 13th). Not only is the window of opportunity short, but Congress already has a gun pointed at its head called the “fiscal cliff.” (The “fiscal cliff” is a broad array of spending cuts that Congress imposed on itself along with a “super-committee” as way to motivate itself when it reached a trough of dysfunctionality). Sadly, chances seem high that we’ll fall off the fiscal cliff and simultaneously be left without a new farm bill (which, apparently, might leave us with the ancient 1949 Farm Bill, said Sarah Hackney of NSAC during the recent CFSA Conference).
Thankfully, local, sustainable food efforts are a very bright image in comparison to the gloomy backdrop of Congress and national politics. Healthier, more resilient and more equitable food systems are being built largely without federal aid. With the potential absence of NIFA and other grants in 2013, it is important that we double down on community action, crowdfunding efforts and volunteerism that have helped us so far. Like other segments of the “New Economy,” the new food system thrives on collaboration and innovation.
Please consider calling your Representative in the House on the NSAC day of action on November 15th to help get a new farm bill passed during the upcoming lame duck session. Figuring out how to wean the agriculture sector off of federal supports would be a great solution eventually, but reverting back to the 1949 farm bill won’t help us in that regard and will certainly cause a lot of pain for farmers and consumers.