Current house farm bill fails to meet needs of family farmers, says NFU (US)

WASHINGTON - The US House Agriculture Committee today marked up the 2018 Farm Bill, H.R. 2, sending the bill to the full US House of Representatives for its consideration
calendar icon 19 April 2018
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National Farmers Union (NFU), the nation’s second largest general farm organisation, opposes the legislation as it is currently written, as it fails to provide an adequate safety net to family farmers and consumers, fails to support the long-term sustainability of family farms and ranches, and fails to ensure fair and diverse markets for farmers and ranchers. In a series of recommendations released today, NFU urged House members to make significant improvements on the floor prior to passing the bill.

“This bill is wholly inadequate for providing family farmers with the resources they need to endure the worst decline in the farm economy in decades,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Congressional leadership’s directive to withhold any additional support has hamstrung the committee’s ability to address the six-year, fifty percent drop in net farm income. This bill lacks the improvements needed to provide sufficient farmer and consumer safety nets, it upends programmes that improve sustainability, and it removes programmes that aid the growth of fair and diverse markets for family farmers. Farmers Union is also deeply disappointed in the partisan nature of the House Farm Bill deliberations thus far. We urge members of Congress to make significant improvements to the bill prior to its passage.”

In its list of recommendations, NFU urged House members to significantly improve the farm safety net to reflect the current state of the farm economy. It noted the safety net needs to be improved to keep family farmers in business during down market cycles, yet the current version of the House Farm Bill does not provide enough support to help family farmers and ranchers make ends meet.

“Farmers need higher PLC reference prices for commodities that have been underwater for years,” said NFU’s recommendations list. “Dairy farmers need both price supports and a mechanism that manages our nation’s oversupply of milk. At the same time, these programmes should be implemented responsibly by capping payments and directing them solely to family farmers.”

NFU also suggested the bill needs to ensure credit availability for family farmers and ranchers, whereas the bill currently does nothing to increase loan authority for FSA’s overall loan portfolio. And to ensure a strong consumer nutrition safety net, the NFU recommended the Farm Bill should maintain funding levels for consumer benefits under nutrition programmes. “Unfortunately, the multitude of changes proposed in the bill would compromise food security for working families who currently use SNAP while adding to needless bureaucracy,” said NFU.

"Sustainability is critical"

NFU’s second major recommendation is to promote the long-term sustainability of family farms and ranches. The organisation urged the House to provide incentive-based working lands programmes, whereas the current version of the farm bill cuts $5 billion from these programmes over the next decade, and it eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). NFU also called for funding to energy programmes to be restored, as Farm Bill energy programmes help family farmers and ranchers lower their environmental footprint, reduce their energy usage, and improve their bottom lines.

“Sustainability is critical for farm productivity and the health of rural communities now and for generations to come,” the NFU said. “The House Farm Bill must be improved to provide family farmers and ranchers the tools they need to be the best possible stewards of our natural resources.”

Finally, Farmers Union urged House members to ensure fair and diverse markets for family farmers.

The current version of the House Farm Bill eliminates mandatory funding for key programmes that are critical in promoting access to local, regional and specialty markets. “The Farmers’ Market and Local Foods Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) improve market opportunities and increase the farmer’s share of the consumer dollar. At the same time, the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) and the Agricultural Marketing Assistance (AMA) programme make it easier for farmers to transition into organic agriculture. Congress must recognise the value of the programmes referenced above and restore mandatory funding,” NFU said.

The House Farm Bill also lacks provisions to ensure the fair treatment of family farmers and ranchers in the exceptionally consolidated markets they operate in. NFU recommended the House include a title that promotes competition in the marketplace, enhances antitrust enforcement, and establishes protections from unfair and deceptive practices in the contract poultry and livestock sectors.

“Farmers Union has tirelessly advocated for these priorities over the past many years,” said Johnson. “We cannot support a bill that does so little to improve the farm safety net, and that guts important conservation and market access programmes. If the House of Representatives wants to pass a Farm Bill that is worthy of the men and women who produce our food, fuel and fiber, they need to make significant improvements to the current version of the Farm Bill.”

As reported by the NFU (US)

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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