House Approves Farm Bill, Ending a 2-Year Impasse

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The following article appeared on the New York Times (NYT) website on January 29, 2014. The NYT has been regularly reporting on the farm bill debate for the last two years. 

Written by Ron Nixon.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill authorizing nearly $1 trillion in spending on farm subsidies and nutrition programs, setting the stage for final passage of a new five-year farm bill that has been stalled for more than two years.

Negotiators from the House and Senate spent several weeks working out their differences on issues in the legislation, including cuts to food stamps, income caps on farm subsidies and a price support program for dairy farmers. The bill is expected to save about $16.6 billion over the next 10 years.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 251 to 166. The Senate is expected to take up the bill later this week.

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Farm Bill Fits & Starts ~ 2014 Update

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The following article appeared on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) blog on January 10, 2014. NSAC is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocate for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities. NSAC’s vision of agriculture is one where a safe, nutritious, ample, and affordable food supply is produced by a legion of family farmers who make a decent living pursuing their trade, while also protecting the environment, and contributing to the strength and stability of their communities.

Written by NSAC.

The New Year’s hopes for quick action on a new five-year farm bill in the first half of January are fading as negotiations on certain issues stall. At the beginning of January, the House and Senate lead negotiators were making progress on a compromise bill, and there were rumors of a possible meeting of the conference committee. As the week progressed, however, compromises on certain major issues eluded the negotiators, causing the completion of a new farm bill to be further delayed.

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Organic Checkoff Program? The Debate Continues!

OrganicFoodHealth_m_0904You may be familiar with well-known slogans such as “The Incredible Edible Egg,” “Got Milk?” or “Pork. The Other White Meat.” All of these are examples of advertising campaigns funded by commodity research and promotion programs, otherwise known as “checkoff programs”.

How they work

These programs are administered by the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and run by commodity producers to promote specific commodities (beef, pork, soybeans, eggs, milk, blueberries, avocados), through agricultural research and consumer marketing campaigns. The money to pay for these programs comes from mandatory fees (taxes) placed on commodity producers. For example, for every $100 value of pork sold, pork producers pay $0.40 towards the pork checkoff program. For the government, the purpose of these programs is to stimulate demand for the commodities that benefit from federal price supports. Once consumer demand increases, the government can reduce tax-funded payments to the farmers producing the commodities. In theory, this seems mutually beneficial for all involved in the program.

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Farm Bill 101 & Action Needed Now

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The Farm Bill is a 1001-page proposal that covers food, farming, nutrition, and land use, and is one of the primary tools for the US government to address issues that affect public health, climate, land and water. It’s drafted and hopefully passed through the House and Senate, and on to the President to sign every 5 to 7 years.

However, the days are limited for Congress to enact a new farm bill before the Sept. 30 expiration of current programs. For those paying attention, that Sept. 30, 2013 deadline was originally Sept. 30, 2012. Congress failed to complete its task last year, passing an extension in the early hours of Jan 1. 2013.

So, here we are – two years later – with no reform to outdated farm subsidies and funding stripped from nearly a dozen critical programs that help farmers and communities.  Programs that create jobs, invest in our next generation of farmers, and help farmers and communities build a more sustainable future.

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California Farmland Protection: Reality or Wishful Thinking?

Last week, in the beautiful Napa Valley, the American Farmland Trust and Napa County Farm Bureau hosted a statewide conference – the first of its kind – to address the question: Is farmland conservation a reality, or simply wishful thinking? The intention was to “highlight the successes, define the obstacles, and explore new directions for conserving California agricultural land.”

The 200-person event sold out weeks in advance, bringing together many long-time stakeholders who have worked for decades on farmland issues: advocates, land trusts, government agencies, Farm Bureau members, nonprofit organizations and farmers themselves.  It seemed nearly every agriculture county in the state was present to learn how we can address the frightening reality of losing 30,000 acres of the most fertile agricultural land each year.

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