The Farm Bill is a huge piece of legislation that guides close to $100 billion in spending each year. It is renegotiated approximately every five years and this year is the year.
Approximately 80% of the farm bill goes towards nutrition programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The other 20% goes to farm programs like income supports, rural development, research, crop insurance, and credit.
Not All Farm Bill Spending Is Good Spending
Investing in our food and agriculture system is important. Unfortunately, too many provisions in the farm bill promote the wrong kinds of food: unhealthy food produced in ways that harm small-scale farmers, rural communities, and the environment.
We join our allies who work on domestic food and farming policy in calling for a fair farm bill that supports beginning farmers and ranchers, provides for investment in public research to benefit all farmers, expands conservation programs and programs that encourage agroecology and sustainable production, and programs that address and redress the racism that has plagued our food and agriculture system, among other priorities. Programs like the “Section 2501” grants that provide resources to farmers of color and the Organic Certification Cost Share Program that makes organic certification more affordable for small-scale farmers represent a very small slice of the total farm bill but are essential for a fair and sustainable food system.
But the Farm Bill’s impact stretches beyond the U.S. Of particular interest to those interested in fair trade is Title III, which covers trade and food aid.
The U.S. Farm Bill has had a dramatic impact on agricultural communities across the globe. Agricultural dumping from U.S.-based agribusiness firms undercut farmers in poor countries. When large amounts of food is dumped into a region, it makes it difficult for farmers to sell goods in their own local markets because they are now competing with an influx of cheap food. This puts farmers local to the region in danger of losing their land and pushes them further into poverty. For these reasons, it is often better to secure food aid from a region’s own farmers when available so the benefits are seen in the short and long term from both immediate food aid and cash to invest in farms and communities.
In one stark example, our current Farm Bill encouraged domestic farmers to plant and harvest an over supply of peanuts. When USDA proposed sending some of this supply to Haiti as “food aid,” 60 aid groups quickly organized to demand a stop to this shipment, fearing the long-term damage to farming communities of this food dump would far outweigh any short-term nutritional value of the food.
A fair farm bill would prioritize people and planet globally by investing in small-scale farmers who practice agroecology and produce healthy food. It would also ensure access to healthy food for all consumers and distribute food aid both domestically and internationally in a way that protects long-term markets for farmers in addition to providing access to nutritious food for all consumers.
Fortunately, a bill that upholds many of these principles and values has already been introduced by Representative Earl Blumenauer. His Food and Farm Act would favor farmers and consumers not agribusiness and would be a good start to fixing our food and agriculture system.
The next Farm Bill is in early discussions and Congress needs to hear now that we want this massive legislation to ensure healthy farms and healthy food. Contact your Senators and Representatives now by email, phone, and social media!
Additional resources and sources of facts in this post:
What is the Farm Bill? – A primer by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill – A report by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
U.S. to Ship Peanuts to Haitian Kids; Aid Groups Say ‘This Is Wrong” – coverage of the example of peanut dumping
A Short History of U.S. Ag and Trade Policy – A brief paper by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy on how U.S. food policy harms farmers globally
Food and Farm Act Highlights – A brief summary of the main points of Representative Blumenauer’s Food and Farm Act