Times may be tough, but there’s room in the Farm Bill tent
Part of my work at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has been to report on happenings and announcements at the USDA and on the Hill. Here’s a repost of a quick update I wrote on the most recent House Ag Committee hearing for the 2012 Farm Bill. Check out the NSAC blog and other articles here, or sign up for the Weekly Roundup and you’ll receive regular updates to your inbox.
Thursday’s hearing in the House Agriculture Committee brought in two panels of farm and food policy experts to continue the conversation kicked off on late April in preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill.
As in the first hearing in late April, the witnesses’ testimony and Representatives’ questions covered a wide range of topics, but consistently came back to two underlying themes. First, the 2012 Farm Bill will need to shift “business as usual” especially with regards to farm safety net programs like crop insurance; and second, Congress will need to make these changes within a tough budget context. Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) has been calling the 2012 Farm Bill a “baseline” bill, but in the hearing, it was apparent that even a baseline level of funding is not guaranteed.
These themes played out in a back-and-forth on approaches to rural development. Professor Neil Hamilton of Drake University testified on the importance of continuing to support federal programs that promote the development of local and regional food systems alongside existing national and global commodity agriculture. This analysis was in line with prior comments from Chairman Peterson and Secretary Vilsack, but with overall funding for the Farm Bill likely to be limited, some in Congress feel threatened at what they perceive as an increasing emphasis on new and alternative markets.
In response to Professor Hamilton’s testimony, Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) expressed concern over what he saw as a “growing emphasis” on “lifestyle” agriculture over “production” agriculture and said that “a prospering mainstreet” would not come as a result of this “lifestyle” farming.
Hamilton countered by citing the potential for local and regional production to keep more dollars in rural communities and keep farmers on the land. In his written testimony, Hamilton also emphasized support for “Agriculture of the Middle” – farmers and ranchers who rely heavily on farming income, are too large to sell into direct markets, but too small to compete effectively on the commodity market but are finding new high value regional markets.
Fellow Iowan Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA) reiterated that there was room in the tent for everyone: ‘There is not a threat to production agriculture,’ he said. ‘There’s room for both.’”