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2018 Farm Bill Must Prioritize Small Farmers and Food Insecure Communities

Originally published by Food Tank on May 4, 2018. Written by Katherine Walla.

As the reauthorization of the Farm Bill approaches, three newly released reports urge Congress to address the long-term needs of small farmers and food insecure communities in the the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill Law Enterprise (FBLE) applies a justice lens to the farm bill debate, outlining policy steps necessary for building a reliable and nutritious food supply, an honest living for farmers, a healthy environment, and a strong safety net against hunger.

“For most Americans, and even for Congress, there is a gulf between caring about these goals and understanding how to pass solutions through the farm bill,” says Lee Miller, author at FBLE; “making the farm bill more intentional and efficient requires policymakers to analyze each farm bill program and assess whether it’s contributing to larger public values and goals.”

FBLE, a national partnership of law school programs, gathered food, public health, and environmental law research to analyze each component of the Farm Bill and develop three reports. Each report addresses a particular weakness of the current Farm Bill, focusing on a specific theme: Diversified Agricultural Economies; Food Access, Nutrition and Public Health; and Productivity and Risk Management. FBLE notes that their recommendations are particularly important as the the draft of the 2018 Farm Bill, H. R. 2 Agriculture and Nutrition Act, excludes farm bill stakeholders.

FBLE acknowledged small and mid-sized farmers contribute significantly to rural economies and agricultural sustainability, yet “structural changes in American agriculture have shifted the benefits of farm bill programs toward fewer, larger operations.” Furthermore, lack of diversity continues to hinder diverse small and mid-sized farmers from creating lasting impacts in their communities. While white farmers receive 98 percent of federal farm program payments, the report notes that diverse farmers—whose agricultural production makes up a significant portion of their and their community’s livelihoods—lack support.

To diversify farms, farming techniques, and farmer demographics, FBLE recommends Congress redistributes funding to small and mid-sized farmers and increase access to markets, insurance, credit, and land.

The report notes that the Farm Bill’s programs for food access, nutrition, and public health, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), have proven successful for low-income communities. However, as healthier food costs about US$1.50 more per day, FBLE recommends Congress increase funding for assistance programs so that poor households can not only achieve food security, but also maintain healthy diets.

To address productivity and risk management, FBLE calls upon Congress to increase fair practices and conservation efforts in crop insurance programs. According to the report, the largest 15 percent of farm operations receive as much as 90 percent of all crop insurance subsidies; FBLE suggests Congress reform current programs and invest in pilot programs to spread benefits of crop insurance evenly.

To better meet the needs of producers, protect natural resources, and boost productivity, FBLE recommends that Congress enforces conservation laws and research programs that improve risk management, with a focus on investments in soil health, resilient agronomic systems and natural resources conservation.

Click here to read the full reports and track the Farm Bill’s progress.


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