As I write this blog, the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture is at work on its version of the 2012 Food & Farm Bill. (The Senate Ag Committee passed their version a few weeks back and may bring to the Senate floor in mid-June.)
So now is a crucial time for Congress to hear from citizens on what needs to be in the farm bill. You can bet that farm commodity groups and big agribusiness interests will get their voices heard. Equally important will be the voice of family farm and healthy food advocates, as well as clean water and environmental supporters.
The 2012 Farm Bill must support the best of rural America -- family farming and ranching, vibrant communities, and entrepreneurship. To that end, the next Farm Bill ought to include the following:
Limit farm payments. It’s as simple as that: put a cap on unlimited payments. Farm commodity payments as currently designed overly-subsidize the nation's largest farms to the detriment of smaller operations, basically driving them out of business due to unfair competition. Unlimited subsidies are the single most wasteful and counter-productive feature of current farm policy. Both farm subsidies and crop insurance premium subsidies should be subject to caps, so that payments are virtually targeted to the small and mid-sized farmers who need them most.
Protect conservation programs. Conservation and good stewardship of agricultural lands should not only be encouraged, but rewarded. The previous Farm Bill (2008) included several conservation programs that were steps in the right direction. The 2012 Farm Bill should improve and enhance these programs. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Organic Initiative within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are especially valuable incentives for farmers to conserve natural resources on their land. Conservation compliance should also be part of any kind of farm payment – see the first item above – so that no public money is given without complying to land stewardship practices.
Specialty crops. These are basically the catch-all for non-commodity crops (i.e., corn, wheat, rice, cotton). California’s specialty crop industry of fruits, vegetables and nuts accounts for about half of all domestic farmgate crop value. Such crops have received relatively little funding in Farm Bill programs, but the 2008 Farm Bill did include new funding for Specialty Crop Block Grants, assistance for organic production, local food marketing and promotion, and other key programs that help to strengthen this sector. Not only should these programs be maintained, but funding should be increased to reflect their effectiveness in creating new jobs, stimulating local economies, improving public health, and increasing access to healthy foods for children, seniors, and low-income citizens.
Support beginning farmers. Getting started in farming can be expensive and extremely difficult for even the most motivated new farmer. The 2012 Farm Bill must seek a crosscutting comprehensive approach to address beginning farmer and rancher needs. Among other things, it should provide funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, increase set-asides for beginning farmers and ranchers in conservation programs, and make credit easier to obtain.
By incorporating these critical elements, the 2012 Farm Bill will support our small towns and rural communities in building a better future. It will create good jobs, and reflect the highest values of all of America.
For more information on the Farm Bill from a Catholic perspective, visit
Other posts by James F. Ennis