Bill Contains Some LSP Priorities, but Overall Federal Ag Policy Remains in Major Need of Reform
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The membership of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) launched its “Our Farm Bill” campaign in 2017 to advocate for a Farm Bill that worked for people and the land. This vision called for a change in direction for federal policy to focus more on family farms, stewardship of the land, soil health and the vitality of rural communities, rather than a system of agriculture that has led to massive land and corporate concentration and less resilient and diverse cropping systems.
The federal Farm Bill released Dec. 10 by the Congressional Farm Bill Conference Committee and passed by the Senate and House this week, while containing many policies advocated for by LSP, overall fails to embrace a much-needed change in direction. LSP’s Federal Policy Steering Committee, a group of farmer-members, will discuss this legislation in the coming days and develop a more in-depth analysis of the bill and LSP’s position.
Here is an overview of the five policy priorities of the “Our Farm Bill” Campaign, and which polices are included in the final Farm Bill legislation:
A top priority of LSP members was to stop the effort to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP remains as a standalone program in the 2018 Farm Bill. The legislation also includes another LSP priority by increasing CSP payments for the most significant conservation practices, like cover cropping, resource conserving crop rotations and advanced managed grazing. While funding is preserved for CSP for the next five years, a change in funding approach has the potential to make it harder to protect and secure CSP funds in future Farm Bills.
Risk Management Reform
LSP advocated for an increased linkage of farmers’ crop insurance premiums subsidies to their use of conservation practices, as well as simplified Whole Farm Revenue policies and limits to premium subsidies. The final bill does not include any meaningful areas of linkage between conservation and premium subsidies. It does include a provision that makes it easier for farmers to plant cover crops without conflicting with their crop insurance policy. Whole Farm Revenue Protection improvements were included in the bill. These improvements reduce the burden of applying for the policies and provide more flexibility in administering the policies. No premium subsidy limits were created, allowing farms to continue to collect an unlimited premium subsidy through the federal crop insurance program, something LSP is opposed to.
Next Generation Farmers
LSP advocated for increased funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, as well as easier access to Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans and federal funds for Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) for Beginning Farmers. The Farm Bill created the Farmer Opportunity Training and Outreach (FOTO) program by combining the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, and gave these combined programs permanent funding. One disappointing feature is that it did not make access to FSA loans easier or fund IDAs.
Local Food Economies
LSP advocated for more support for farm-to-school and farm-to-institution programs. Support for these programs was not increased in the legislation, but it did create the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) and provides this initiative with $50 million per year in mandatory funds, in perpetuity. The program combines the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Value-Added Producer Grants Program.
Corporate Concentration in Ag & Factory Livestock Production
LSP advocated for disqualifying factory farms from Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts and lowering contract limits. We also advocated to disqualify factory farms from receiving FSA federally guaranteed loans and to making the program more transparent. However, no changes were made to prevent factory farms from accessing EQIP contracts or FSA federally guaranteed loans. The bill raises the guaranteed loan limits to $1.75 million, an increase LSP opposed.
Nutrition Assistance Programs
In addition to the above priorities, LSP advocated against the increased work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) recipients that were included in the House version of the bill, and which derailed chances for bipartisan Farm Bill engagement. The final legislation does not include these added requirements, maintains a strong safety net for rural and urban families facing food insecurity, and aims to improve SNAP access to sources of local and traditionally grown food.