The Next Farm Bill and Sustainable Agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay Region

By the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

More than five years ago nearly a dozen sustainable agriculture farm bill programs came to a screeching halt. These programs were part of a long list of programs – many programs that the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) helped to create – that ran out of funding upon the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill. 

The federal Farm Bill is reauthorized by the U.S. Congress approximately every five years, but sometimes Congress does not stick to this timeline – leaving important sustainability programs at risk. The 2012 Farm Bill is a perfect example because it took two years longer than expected to pass. The sustainability programs were effectively “stranded” until February 2014 when the next Farm Bill eventually passed. As a result, grant programs for beginning farmers, agricultural research, rural development, and renewable energy went into hiatus and lost a full year of funding.

Right now we are looking at a similar situation. Unless funding under the 2018 Farm Bill is reauthorized before October 1, 2018, critical programs that support sustainable agriculture are back on the chopping block. Programs at risk include those that support and invest in new farmers, minority farmers, ranchers, local and regional food systems, rural economic development, and organic production. These programs include:

* These three programs sometimes receive additional supplemental funding from the annual agriculture appropriations bill, in addition to direct farm bill funding.

The loss of funding for these programs would directly hurt producers and non-governmental organizations nationally, and on a local scale – including those located in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Chesapeake Bay region.

For example, the Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) Program, a competitive grant program designed to support farmers involved with value-added production, is one program where the local impacts would be especially hard hitting for smaller scale producers. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, for example, Maryland’s P.A. Bowen Farmstead [a Fair Farms partner farmer] received a $250,000 award from VAPG to expand their production capacity. The farm raises grass-fed beef and produces dairy products. Their VAPG award helped them to take care of a number of their growing farm’s needs– from processing and packaging for their grass-fed beef and cheese, to staff support, distribution, and marketing.

The Organic Research Extension Initiative (OREI) is another example of a program that directly benefits local communities. In FY 2015, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville used OREI support to carry out a project to reduce their environmental impact and increase local production. ARS ongoing projects received nearly $2 million in support from OREI to improve three different legume cover crop species’ performance for different regions. This is a four-year project that requires testing and research across the U.S., but will have the most direct, positive impact on Mid-Atlantic organic farmers. Without continued funding in the 2018 Farm Bill, future potential projects like ARS will struggle to get off the ground, and farmer-based research will suffer.

In total, there are 37 programs, including the 10 listed above, that receive mandatory Farm Bill funding today that are not permanently funded and will be subject to a debate about renewed funding in the next Farm Bill.

Looking Forward

In recognition of the importance of programs like these to traditionally underserved farmers engaging in sustainable production as well as to the environment, NSAC will invest heavily in securing new funding for these 10 programs ahead of the September 2018 deadline.

At this time, both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have begun holding Farm Bill hearings. We expect the debate to ramp up significantly toward the end of 2017.

If you are interested in helping to defend, improve and expand these critical programs, sign up for NSAC’s action alerts and stay tuned for opportunities to engage, tell your stories, and communicate with your legislators as the farm bill process progresses!

 

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