What’s next for the secret Farm Bill

  • Published on November 23rd, 2011

secretBy Heather Carr
(Cross-posted from our sister-blog, EatDrinkBetter)

The SuperCommittee admitted defeat yesterday. The budget cuts will have to be decided by Congress (all of Congress, democratically) and the U.S. Farm Bill is still being written. What now?

The Farm Bill has been discussed behind closed doors for months now and we’ve only been able to get peeks of it. The United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry sent the SuperCommittee some recommendations that would have reportedly cut $23 billion from the budget.

The Environmental Working Group got hold of a leaked copy of the recommendations. It’s just a sixteen page summary of sorts and many of the points don’t have solid numbers attached, so it’s not always clear how the referenced programs would be affected. However, some of them do have numbers.

Subsidies for Industrial Agriculture

Surprisingly, perhaps, industrial ag would lose many of their subsidies.

  • Direct Payments, Counter-Cyclical Payments (CCPs), Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) Program, and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program expire, creating $15 billion in savings for deficit reduction.
  • Any person or entity with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of more than $950,000 will be ineligible for payments from Title I Farm Bill programs.
  • Individual producers cannot receive any payments in excess of $105,000 from the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs. (This is already in place; the document says they’ll keep it as is.)

Fruits and Vegetables

It’s nice to see foods other than corn, wheat, soy, and the like getting noticed. Encouraging farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables will make for a healthier nation with better access to nutritious foods.

  • Expands crop insurance for underserved crops, including fruit and vegetable producers.
  • Promotion of fruits and vegetables.
  • Promotion of farmers’ markets, collecting data on organics, and helping farmers with the cost of certification.

Conservation

Here’s where a lot of programs don’t have numbers attached. The wording seems to indicate that they would stay at current funding levels, but how would that help a SuperCommittee looking for places to cut?

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) currently has 32 million acres taken out of production to prevent erosion and degradation of soil and water quality. The recommendation is to cut that down to 25 million acres over “multi-years”.

Marketing

The programs mentioned in the marketing and trade section seem to be kept at their current levels over the next several years. Most of the marketing budget of the USDA goes to assisting very large corporations. Some of the programs in the section are humanitarian in nature, such as McGovern-Dole, which distributes food commodities to schools in developing nations, and the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, which hold extra commodities in case of natural disasters in foreign nations.

Food Stamps (SNAP)

By cutting automatic enrollment because of utility benefits, the food stamps program would save about $4 billion a year. It seems to me like it would just require food stamp recipients to visit two offices instead of one, costing them an extra day of work, but what do I know?

  • Require retailers to stock more fruits and vegetables and have incentives for food stamps recipients to purchase more fruits and vegetables.
  • The USDA would have to write rules prohibiting lottery winners from collecting food stamps. It’s all the fault of thisone guy who won $2 million and continued using food stamps. Well, silly though it seems to push this regulation through right now in this secret document, millionaires don’t need food stamps.

Other Things

There are lots of other things included in the secret document sent to the SuperCommittee – programs for beginning farmers, health and welfare programs for rural communities, agricultural research (ATTRA is in there) – but it’s not clear if most of these are changing from their present form.

The document is interesting and posted online. I’m glad it’s gotten out into the light. Now maybe we can discuss this among ourselves and with our Congresspeople.

(Image by RestrictedData, used with Creative Commons license.)

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