All Signs Point to a Farm Bill Reform

Photo by Andrew Ciscel. Some rights reserved.

This year, the 112th Congress is set to consider reauthorizing 2008’s Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (known familiarly as the Farm Bill), as many of that Act’s provisions expire in 2012. This bill, a continuation of the 2002 Farm Bill, contained 15 titles covering a broad range of issues. Among other things, it provided grants to develop biorefineries, gave funding to the Rural Energy for America Program, increased benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and established new research initiatives for specialty and organic crops.

… AND, amidst all of that, Title XII of the 2008 Farm Bill introduced a “permanent disaster assistance program” to insurance crops for farmers in the case of natural disasters, etc. A new study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists entitled “Ensuring the Harvest” argues for reform of the Crop Insurance and Disaster Assistance Programs on the basis that these provisions are not weighed fairly for smaller, organic farmers, favoring larger industrial farms that focus on planting larger quantities of one or two crops. The report points out that these insurance policies, as overseen by the US Department of Agriculture, operate on a per-crop basis, making it difficult for farmers who grow smaller amounts of many different crops who then have to apply for many separate policies.

In fact, organic farms were only recently given the option of receiving crop insurance, in the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 – prior to that Act, these small organic farms were considered too risky to insure. Since then, organic farmers have been forced to pay 5% surcharges as a way to account for the supposedly inherent risks associated with this kind of farming, though as agricultural economist Jeffery O’Hara pointed out in a recent New York Times article, there is no real evidence that there ARE greater risks associated with organic farming.

Meanwhile, a new survey from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation finds that three quarters of Americans support doubling the current minimum amount of financial support given by SNAP, while 70% of study participants said that they have purchased fresh produce from a farmer’s market in the past year (a statistic that supports the UCS study’s claim that smaller, organic farmers deserve more from the reformed Farm Bill). Grist has a nice, new infographic up explaining how Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and how small farms support this effort.

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