As with any legislation, it takes both Houses of Congress to pass a farm bill. On May 18th members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a draft farm bill which eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program- the most comprehensive conservation program for working farmlands in the country, includes major changes to the food assistance program which may increase food insecurity for more than 1 million low-income households , opens the door to unlimited subsidies – even for those not actively involved in farming, eliminates all funding for the Organic Cost-Share program and local and regional food systems investments. This bill was passed almost along party lines.
This stands in stark contrast to the Senate’s version of the farm bill which was formulated and passed in a bipartisan manner. Senate Majority Leader Pat Roberts and Ranking member Debbie Stabenow worked closely to not only draft the bill, but also in terms of what amendments would be supported or opposed – together.
The Senate bill includes permanent mandatory funding for programs that support beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, local and regional food systems, the Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program, organic research and the organic cost-share program. The bill also starts to get at some of the structural problems with the farm bill – specifically crop insurance policies that are a disincentive for conservation measures. An example of this is the practice of cover cropping which is part of the solution to the water quality crisis in Ohio’s Western Lake Erie watershed basin. The bill could go farther and limit the practice of giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in crop insurance subsidies to operators who make millions a year by capping government subsidies for those with high incomes. OEFFA continues to push for policies like this that make environmental and economic sense and level the playing field for farmers.
For more specifics read this NSAC blog on a Tale of Two Farm Bills.
The House of Representatives has appointed members to the Conference Committee and the Senate is expected to do so next week.
Let’s hope the majority of Senate provisions make it into the final farm bill!