Now is the Time To Make the 2018 Farm Bill Better

It’s easy to understand how some of us might have missed National Agriculture Day earlier this week with all the screaming tawdry tabloid headlines out of Washington. Some of us might not even realize that Congress is beginning to shape a new Farm Bill this session.

Well, neither of those points slipped by our family farmers and ranchers or the locally grown movement that we hold close to our hearts. Protecting and bolstering the agricultural community is not only critical to commerce and our local economies; it’s critical to our national security.

“Food security isn’t just about having enough food, it’s about national security. A nation that cannot feed its people is a nation at risk,” explained Debra Kozikowski, founder and chairwoman of our non-profit organization, Rural Votes. “The health of our family farms and ranches is key to the health of our nation and our democracy.”

With the White House girding for an ill-conceived trade war that could be a blow to the breadbasket of our nation, it’s even more critical that we protect the people who grow and raise the food that grace our tables. Anyone who thinks that’s an overstatement should consider this: China’s very first retaliatory threat in response to Trump’s protectionist policies was to target pork, wine and fruit exported from the United States.

Causing undue pain to Rural America is a heck of way for Trump to say thanks to the region he carried in the 2016 election, yet we see it happen repeatedly, from cuts to Rural Healthcare to shortchanging Rural Infrastructure to throwing pocket change at Rural Americans while giving away billions of dollars to corporations and his wealthy fat cat friends in his tax bill. Now Trump and his Republican cronies are taking aim at gutting parts of the 2018 Farm Bill that would hit Rural Americans the hardest.

Stepping up to try to ensure that the well being of our farming and ranching community becomes a national priority is the group, Democrats for a Better Farm Bill. In a groundbreaking issue paper from the organization, former Census Bureau mathematician Doug Hillmer and Nebraska political scientist Jon Oberg urge that we “re-connect with rural America by supporting healthy nutrition, new farmers, and the burgeoning market for local sustainable food.”

Hillmer and Oberg recommend pursuing a six-point plan for the 2018 Farm Bill that (quoting verbatim):

  • Marshals the market power of the Food Revolution for the benefit of rural communities, as newly prescribed by the Fed and USDA. This will assure that sustainable farming methods are scalable so local food producers can meet the growing demands for healthy food.
  • Unleashes the nation’s existing state and local research and extension networks to attack the spreading nutrition debacle.
  • Ensures that young people in rural America can successfully pursue a career in farming and have access to affordable farmland.
  • Replaces the costly and wasteful crop insurance programs with lower-cost and more equitable programs that give much more attention to protecting small farmers – as opposed to agri-business – from the risks of the market.
  • Provides more emphasis on and incentives for SNAP recipients purchasing healthy food. The current rules for the WIC program can serve as a guide.
  • Understands topsoil as infrastructure and protects the nation’s precious and disappearing topsoil and productive capacity through greatly expanded, urgent conservation. Restoring topsoil supports sustainable farming methods, re-charges our depleted aquifers, and protects our physical infrastructure from the ravages of water runoff.

“There is no better way to present a vision for rural America than through the 2018 Farm Bill. This legislation touches every American, but is especially important to those in farms and cities all across the heartland,” Hillmer and Oberg wrote in a recent op-ed in The Hill newspaper.

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