Spring Forward: Farm Bill Updates and Challenges

 

"The work of the Agriculture Committee, including reauthorizing the Farm Bill in 2012, 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." – Rep. Frank D. Lucas (Oklahoma)
 
Every five years we get a new farm bill from Congress, but what is the farm bill? Read a quick refresher here.
 
Unfortunately, the 2012 farm bill never made it past the House of Representatives. The farm bill is supposed to encompass a lot of different elements, including food stamps (along with SNAP — a supplemental nutrition program) and legislators couldn’t agree on funding so the bill expired in September 2012. Currently, the 2008 bill is chugging along until the deadline of September 30, 2013, and with that extension, a whole new bill needs written as automatic spending cuts are starting.
 
Seeds of Change
Crop insurance and weather are uncertain variables that hang over farmers this time of year. Drought took a great toll on agriculture and farmers, officials and economists have a right to worry. We are almost one year later than the worst drought in 25 years. The main crops of concern are corn and soybeans that are dominant in the Midwest Corn Belt. These crops are used to feed livestock, so higher prices on corn and soybeans are directly related to higher prices for meat and dairy. Growers are looking towards lawmakers to pass a new farm bill that will combine conservation programs, research and assistance with crop risk.
 
Mouths to Feed
The Supplemental Nutrition Education Program (or SNAP) is a resource for struggling households. It provides food resources and nutrition education to needy families. The Food Research and Action Center compiled a list of ways to strengthen the program: Increase the minimum benefit for elderly Americans, adjust SNAP benefits in a timely manner to account for inflation, and promote increased access of nutritious foods to low-income Americans which would include those in urban areas ("food deserts"), arming farmers markets with EBT capability. Community organizations through Share Our Strength (Local Matters, is an example of a Columbus, Ohio, organization that educates low-income families). Some urban areas with farmers markets have an option for a "double value produce perks" where people can use their EBT card to purchase 5 pounds of produce, but receive 10 pounds' worth.
 
The farm bill covers a lot of ground from field to fork, impacting all of us. The overall goal of the farm bill is to create a plan for our nation’s growers and in turn this will provide safe and nutritious food for Americans.

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Gina Lesako
Gina Lesako, RD, LD, is a nutritionist and the blog coordinator for the dietetic practice group, SCAN (Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition). She also writes her own blog, Dietitians Eat Chocolate Too. Follow her antics on Twitter.