On June 21st, the Senate passed the so-called “farm bill,” officially named the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012. The 1,010-page bill encompasses numerous policy and spending provisions, including conservation, food aid, nutrition, rural development initiatives, and specialty crop research.
The bill was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support, and now goes to the House, where legislators anticipate fierce opposition from conservative lawmakers who believe that the bill needs to make even more significant cuts in spending on the food stamp program. The Congressional Budget Office has projected the bill’s cost over 10 years to be close to $1 trillion, which is more than the budget for education and less than spending on defense or Social Security, according to NPR.
Despite the misleading title of “farm bill,” the majority of the bill in dollar terms goes towards the federal food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP). The Senate bill makes significant cuts in current spending levels on SNAP, while rejecting proposals for more severe cuts. Nonetheless, the cuts have raised serious concerns from food and nutrition groups, who don’t believe that the bill provides enough incentive for families to purchase fruits and vegetables.
The Senate version of the bill cuts money given in direct payments to farmers and farmland owners. The shift away from price supports for farmers towards risk management is designed to protect against natural disasters such as the devastating storms, fires, and floods experienced across the country over the course of the last year. This makes the federally-subsidized crop insurance program the primary safety net for farmers when crop prices fall, a fact that has left some growers complaining that the bill doesn’t compensate adequately for market fluctuations, and that it primarily benefits large-scale growers, because the subsidy is directly proportionate to growing quantity.
In addition to food stamps and price supports for farmers, the bill provides for farmers market and local food promotion programs, fruit and vegetables purchasing incentives, and research into the efficacy of purchasing food aid regionally. Despite these legislative advances, environmental and conservation groups have found a lot to fault about the bill, what with its cuts to farm conservation programs and continuing high subsidies for large, relatively well-off growers of corn and soybeans.
Why does the Farm Bill matter? If you are concerned about the price of school lunches, national park upkeep, equal access to fresh produce, or the state of our country’s woodland preserves, the Farm Bill is a critical piece of how your future will be shaped. If you care about preserving family farms, strengthening local food economies, promoting sustainable growing practices, and lowering the medical and economic tolls of malnutrition, than this massive piece of legislation matters even more. Many analysts anticipate the House bill will further slash food stamp and conservation programs, while continuing to subsidize large monocropping farmers.
Watershed Media and Food Fight 2012 offer a number of ways you can raise awareness and advocate for a fairer Farm Bill, for example, by setting up an info table at a farmers market, or consolidating and distributing information about your local and state representatives and their interests in the issues that are most relevant to you.