First, I would like to apologize for my lack of blogging lately. I recently moved to Washington, D.C. to begin graduate school and I have been very busy finding internships and trying not to get lost on the Metro (I’ve been successful with both, thus far. Cross your fingers on the latter though). I am thrilled to be in a city with so much passion for policy and leadership! I plan to support America’s hard-working farmers while educating the public about agriculture. Which brings me to the point of this blog post- THE FARM BILL.
You have probably heard the phrase “farm bill” mentioned at least a few times throughout your lifetime, most prevalently within these last few months. But do you know what it is, and honestly- do you really care? I’m hoping that this post will provide you with some insight into agriculture and why the farm bill is important for EVERY American, whether he or she be a cattle farmer in South Dakota, an organic-loving vegan living in a NYC high-rise, a cheese-enthusiast (like me), an avid hiker, an individual living in a small town, a university researcher, a hobby gardener, or a low-income single parent needing to provide for his or her children.
So what exactly is this infamous “farm bill?” The “Agriculture, Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013,” more commonly known as the farm bill, is legislative policy that covers anything and everything related to agriculture and rural America. Yes, pretty much ALL of agriculture and rural America. It includes laws and policies related to supporting our country through nutrition programs, forestry, conservation, crop insurance, environmentalism and sustainability practices, international trade, and research. The bill is passed once every five years or so, and the previous bill expired on September 30th, 2013. This means that farmers have been without any long-term support for the past few months. Congress and support groups are currently working hard to establish an agreement so that the bill can be passed.
With a growing global population expected to reach approximately 9.6 billion by the year 2050 (according to the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs), we will inevitably have a lot of mouths to feed! This means that farmers and ranchers will be increasingly essential to our health and well-being in the years to come. The farm bill ensures that we have the ability to feed our country in a safe, sustainable, and economical manner. Everyone benefits from the farm bill.
The entire farm bill represents about only 2% of federal funding. Although according to the Congressional Budget Office, the farm bill‘s cost will be $969 billion over 10 years, the vast majority of this budget (~80%) will go towards the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps, or SNAP). This program has been one of the impasses in passing the bill; Democrats wanted to increase the amount of funding for SNAP, while Republicans strived for a decrease. SNAP affects many low-income and struggling families who need to provide their children with healthy, safe meals.
You might be thinking: “But I don’t need to use food stamps. How does the farm bill affect ME?” The rest of the bill, or approximately 20% supports America’s farmers, ranchers, and CONSUMERS through various commodity programs. Let’s break the farm bill down by some of the areas that it covers…
Commodities and Natural Disaster Relief: This provides insurance, or a safety net, for farmers that grow things that we find in our everyday food and clothing staples like sugar, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, dairy, and cotton. As we all know, the weather is out of our control. When Hurricane Sandy happened, farmers all over the northeast were affected. This past fall, South Dakota cattle farmers were devastated as tens of thousands of cattle were killed because of a severe blizzard and extreme freezing temperatures. As a result, meat prices rose, which in turn affected CONSUMERS when they bought their meat at the grocery store or farmers’ markets. A farm bill would provide farmers and ranchers with insurance and support- whether it be for crops, cattle, etc.- in the cases when Mother Nature decides to be unforgiving. As a Wisconsinite who is literally obsessed with dairy, I personally do not want to see milk prices skyrocket to ~$6-8/gallon (which is what may happen if a farm bill is not passed.) I drink 3-4 gallons of milk per week, and as a graduate student I cannot afford to pay $32 every week for milk! I vote for stable food prices.
Conservation: The farm bill encourages sustainable farming practices that preserve our water, land, air, and soil. I plan to have children. And grandchildren. And I hope to be alive someday to meet my great-grandchildren. And maybe even my great-great grandchildren. I do NOT want them to live in a polluted and destructed world; I want for them to experience the world’s beauty. Therefore, I feel that the conservation portion of the farm is bill is a necessary tool for a healthy future generation.
Rural Development: This aspect of the farm bill provides communities with technological, business, and infrastructure improvements so that we can build our rural communities. As a result, this increases economic growth in rural America and opens up new job opportunities in diverse subject areas. Amen for job-creation.
Research: A lot more happens at universities than students simply going to class. Research is also performed at many universities, and a portion of this research is focused on improving the agricultural and food industries. Cornell, Penn State, UW-Madison, Ohio State, and Minnesota are just a few of the top research universities that aid in discovering better food safety, conservation, nutrition, pest management, and sustainability methods. With funding for high-quality research, we are able to help our farmers to become more sustainable, efficient, and productive! Producing more, using fewer resources, is key for a sustainable future.
Farm Credit: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, less than 1% of the U.S. population claims to be farmers and the average age of farmers is rising, with about 60% of farmers in the U.S. being 55 years or older. Within the next few decades, most of our current farmers will be either too old to farm productively or have passed away. It is increasingly essential that young people continue to take over their family farms, as well as agricultural education be taught to young people to spark interest in careers within agriculture. Farm credit programs provide direct and guaranteed loans to farmers, which helps beginning farmers and ranchers to begin their new careers in feeding America’s families.
Forestry/Recreation: I am a runner…Therefore, I like to stay hydrated by drinking ridiculous amounts of water throughout the day. I am blessed that we have the fortune of clean drinking water in the U.S. I enjoy running on trails as well as going for long, beautiful hikes. Nothing beats an afternoon walking through a national or state park, with the smells and sounds of wilderness surrounding me. And everyone who knows me also knows that I am an animal-lover. The farm bill will help provide support for all of these things- including ensuring that we have clean drinking water, national parks, wildlife habitats, as well as access to camping, hunting/conservation, and other recreational activities.
Agricultural Trade and Food Aid: Exporting agricultural products creates one million jobs in the U.S.!!!!! The U.S. also participates in humanitarianism efforts in developing countries by providing aid in times of agricultural crises.
Now that I’ve explained some of the major ways that the farm bill improves not only the food industry, but also society as a whole, I hope that you can see how significant it is. The farm bill truly impacts EVERY American, no matter what he or she does for a living, no matter how old he or she is, and no matter what type of foods he or she eats. As the House Committee on Agriculture Chairman, Frank Lucas, said: “The work of the Agriculture Committee, including reauthorizing the Farm Bill, affects every American; ensuring that our farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to produce an abundant and affordable food and fiber supply is as important to our country as national defense.” The world’s population is expanding, and it is our country’s duty to provide our people with a safe and consistent food supply. So next time you go to your local grocery store or farmers market, think about not only the hard work that farmers must engage in to provide us with our food, but also think about the legislative policies that we need in order to enjoy life as we know it for many years to come.
Until next time (when I pray to God that the farm bill will be passed),
Ps- (I can use that terminology on a blog, right?!) If you are a numbers nerd like me, you may find this report by the USDA on the economic importance of passing a farm bill interesting: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2013/11/0223.xml