A Foodless Farm Bill

The Farm Bill has always been one of the most important and foundational federal policies that greatly influences both rural and urban America. Renewed and revised every five years, the Farm Bill contains 15 titles that provide program funding for various segments of farms and food.

The titles from the current 2008 version include:
• administrative and funding authorities for programs that cover income and commodity price support, farm credit, and risk management
• conservation through land retirement, stewardship of land and water resources, and farmland protection
• food assistance and agricultural development efforts abroad and promotion of international access to American farm products
• food stamps, domestic food distribution, and nutrition initiatives
• rural community and economic development initiatives, including regional development, rural energy efficiency, water and waste facilities, and access to broadband technology
• research on critical areas of the agricultural and food sector
• accessibility and sustainability of forests
• encouraging production and use of agricultural and rural renewable energy sources
• and initiatives for attracting and retaining beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Congress did not successfully pass the Farm Bill in 2012 when the 2008 version expired. Instead, the 2008 version was extended until September 2013, at which time, assuming no new Farm Bill has been approved, we revert to the permanent law of the 1938 Agricultural Adjustment Act.

No Farm Bill means that food prices are subject to the laws of decades past, which — when combined with inflation — will result in price escalation, particularly in the dairy segment. No Farm Bill also means the expiration of funding for land-grant universities, block grants for specialty crop producers, and renewable energy initiatives through USDA.

In July of 2013, the House of Representatives approved their version of the new Farm Bill, separating agricultural policy from nutrition policy. Essentially, a foodless Farm Bill. In past versions, SNAP and other nutrition components of the bill have made up the bulk of all Farm Bill spending. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2010 approximately 80 percent of all Farm Bill spending went toward domestic food assistance programs. In 2010, SNAP benefits totaled $64.7 billion, up from $34.6 billion in 2008.

A foodless Farm Bill has serious implications. Food should not be a political football. The largest segment of the 47 million beneficiaries from federally assisted food programs is children. The government's interests should be in ensuring that the “least of these” are supported. Farms and food are intricately woven together. They are part of the same continuum. Farming is the front end of nutrition. What we farmers grow provides healthy, safe and abundant food for our citizenry. Nutrition funding should remain as part of the total package that is the Farm Bill.

America’s food, feed, fiber and fuel are intricately tied up into the massive yarn ball of generations of federal government policy. Undoing it isn’t so simple. Not addressing it is lack of leadership. Walking away from millions of low-income Americans by passing a foodless Farm Bill is unconscionable.


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Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD
Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and farmer in Maryland's Eastern Shore. Read her blog, The Foodie Farmer. Follow her on Twitter.