Farm Bill 2014: What they got right and wrong
Minnesota is a big agricultural player, with 50% of the state’s land used for farming. The food and agriculture industry is the state’s 2nd largest employer, with rural communities heavily dependent on farm income. When it comes to the population as a whole, a number of folks who live nowhere near a farm also benefit from the Farm Bill, with 80% of its funding allocated to nutritional programs like SNAP and WIC.
The Farm Bill has the potential to affect the livelihood and food security of many Minnesotans, and despite its flaws, Minnesotan farm advocates and policy leaders believe that the agricultural system will benefit from this new legislation.
The 2014 Farm Bill has made some substantial changes for farmers, moving away from a direct payment system to increased dependence on crop insurance. In the direct payment system, landowners received a fixed per-acre payment, regardless of crop prices or even if they didn't plant at all.
Instead farmers will take part in a program that looks to increase the level of risk management over time. $94.6 billion will be allocated for crop insurance over the next ten years. This means that farmers will only receive payments if they have poor crop years as a result of drought, flooding, etc. or if prices fall below a certain point.
Others in farming criticize the plan saying that most of the new payments will go to a few select farmers, and that it will hurt smaller, family-run operations.
Those a few steps removed from the farm are also unhappy $8.6 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Some of the 46 million monthly participants still struggle with food security. These cuts could result in a loss of 3.2 billion meals over the next decade. In Minnesota, the SNAP program benefitted 551,040 in November, 2013 alone. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Ben Lilliston agrees that it’s definitely a problem for the growing number of working age Americans who rely on SNAP.
However, there is an alternative program states can access to recoup a portion of lost funding.
The farm bill also fell short in making needed reforms in how we grow food to be more environmentally sustainable, continuing heavy subsidies for conventional agricultural systems.
Reform does not happen overnight. While we have time to work toward the next farm bill, let’s promote sustainable, biodiverse, and smaller farms. Let’s make immediately consumable food more accessible for all by boosting supplemental nutrition programs.
Not only should you vote with your dollar by supporting small, local farms, but get active in working for real change in the next farm bill. Work to convince policymakers it’s in our collective best interest to encourage more public investment in expanding fresh, local food. Policy change that reflects these values will benefit both Minnesotan producers and consumers.