Glass half full
The Farm Bill has passed the Senate, and I'm the last one who's going to say it doesn't make me want to cry. But despite some extremely disappointing losses -- including the failure of the Dorgan-Grassley payment limitations amendment -- the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reminds us that there were some important wins, too (and yet more battles to be won when the bill gets reconciled with the House version.) As we move into the weekend, that's a note I'd like to leave on.
Thus, from SAC's press release, a rundown of the positives:
- The Senate farm bill includes $2 billion over five years for the Conservation Security Program (now to be called Conservation Stewardship Program), which would allow 13.3 million acres to be enrolled each year through a continuous, nationwide enrollment opportunity and a ranking system to ensure strong natural resource and environmental outcomes.
- The bill also gives the highly successful Wetlands Reserve Program a new $2 billion to restore agricultural wetlands during the next five years. Without the new funding, the SAC-supported program would come to a halt.
- The Senate bill contains the strongest Farm Bill livestock reforms ever passed in a farm bill, taking important steps to stop the widespread use of unfair contract practices and disproportionate market power of meatpackers. The Livestock Title of the Senate bill includes four key reforms, including:
- a ban on meatpackers owning, feeding, or controlling livestock fourteen days before slaughter
- the elimination of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in contracts between livestock producers and packers and processors
- good faith bargaining and contract fairness on the part of packers and processors
- strengthened enforcement of laws against deceptive and unfair practices of packers and processors.
- The bill also includes a breakthrough provision to allow meat from small state-inspected meat plants to be sold in interstate commerce provided that the plants adhere to federal food safety standards.
- The Senate bill provides or increases mandatory funding for the Bioenergy Crop Transition Assistance Program, the Organic Farming Research and Extension Initiative, the Rural Micro-Enterprise Assistance Program, the Farmers' Market Promotion Program, the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, and Organic Production and Marketing Data Collection.
- The bill includes a new mandatory funding requirement for cooperative conservation projects through the Partnerships and Cooperation Initiative and a new "sodsaver" provision to discourage cropping on native prairie.
- It mandates a reduced interest rate and better terms for Beginning Farmer and Rancher Down Payment Loans, a new set-aside of conservation funding for beginning and minority farmers, new eligibility for rural development loans for processing and other infrastructure for local food systems, and the removal of a major barrier to organic farmers' access to crop insurance.
- The bill also requires the Agriculture Research Service to invest a larger portion of total research dollars into research for organic systems, includes new competitive grant research priorities for agricultural entrepreneurship, for public breeding research to advance sustainable and organic farming systems, and to investigate antibiotic resistance.
- The bill also creates a USDA Office of Small Farms and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers to ensure cross-cutting coordination and goal-setting for all small and beginning farmers and ranchers programs, and requires the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint a diverse team of researchers to study existing local food systems and potential community, economic, health and nutrition, environmental, food safety, and food security impacts of local and regional food systems.
That all sounds pretty awesome to me. Yes, it's nowhere near enough. Yes, there were massive disappointments. Yes, there is still more to be done to protect these wins in the final bill. But if you'll bear with me while I wax a bit cheesy: Thanks to everyone who developed these proposals, organized support for them, bugged their senators like the plague, and pushed through these positives on the bill. There is no doubt in my mind that it would have been way, way worse without all that hard work.
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