Farm bill update: good news first

There’s good news and there’s bad news out of the U.S. House of Representatves Committee on Agriculture. The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) passed by a bipartisan 35-11 vote.

The committee rejected amendments to alter the no-cost sugar program and also voted not to remove the Dairy Market Stabilization Program (DMSP) from the new dairy program. The sugar industry generates $20 billion annually and creates 142,000 jobs. Dairy is a mainstay of agriculture in many states and eliminating the supply management provision would be disastrous, leading to a repeat of low prices the industry has seen in the past few years.

A recent National Farmers Union poll found that preserving conservation programs is a priority for farmers across the country. The committee did just that and in an effort to help local producers, the Act encourages federal nutrition program beneficiaries to use their benefits to purchase local and regional food. The committee also gave a thumbs up to the Risk Management Agency to complete its organic price series. A win for organic producers, ensuring that they are indemnified at organic market prices.

On the downside, the energy title received no mandatory funding. Discretionary funds are to be awarded annually by appropriation and lacks a secure multi-year funding mechanism to promote renewable energy investment.

Another step backward is the approval of an amendment weakening Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL). Consumers want to know where their food comes from and it’s a disappointing turn away from respecting the rights of American consumers.

However, the cruelest cuts of all were aimed at the nutrition title. America still faces economic challenges: $16 billion in cuts from such an important safety net for so many people is downright heartless and frankly, politically impractical. Senate leadership has made clear they are not agreeable to massive cuts in feeding programs for hungry families during these difficult times.

The current farm bill expires on September 30.

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