The 2012 Farm Bill- An Overview for Agriculture and Food Security
Posted: April 20, 2012
While the majority of Adams County’s tax base is residential, our land is considered primarily farmland. With 1,289 farms and a $24.1 million farm labor payroll, agriculture is one of Adams County’s top industries providing employment, a fresh food supply, large tax revenues and a scenic landscape.
Farming not only provides direct employment on farms it also provides jobs in related industries such as restaurants, veterinary science, construction, sales of farm supplies and equipment, finance, processing, manufacturing and even tourism. In 2009, agriculturally related jobs reached 29% of all private sector employment in Adams County according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With various industries’ interests linked to agriculture this is a particularly important year―the 2012 Farm Bill is under development. In 2008 the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, commonly known as the Farm Bill, was passed as the guiding force for agricultural policy in the United States and will be expiring on Sept 30, 2012. The farm bill comes up for renewal every 5 years and Congress is already working towards a new policy that producers hope will be passed this year.
The Farm Bill is a comprehensive bill dealing with more than just food and production. The 2008 farm bill allotted an average $56.8 billion annually or $284 billion over 5 years to 15 different titles, programs and policies. The majority of the Farm Bill went to Nutrition (67%), Farm Commodity Support (15%), Conservation (9%) and Crop Insurance (8%) ―respectively $189 billion to food stamps and other nutrition assistance programs, $42 billion to support commodity crops, $24 billion to support mandatory conservation programs, and $22 billion to support crop insurance according to the Congressional Research Service report for Congress on the Farm Bill. The remainder went towards programs such as agricultural food and trade aid, farm credit, rural development, research, forestry, energy, horticultural and organic agriculture, livestock, commodity futures, and trade and tax provisions.
The Farm Bill and Producers
Local fruit grower Brad Hollabaugh of Hollabaugh Bros., Inc. in Biglerville commented that “the Farm Bill is a huge piece of legislation,” that it is a “good investment for the American people. A lot of good things have been done and continue to be done” in the areas of research, marketing and other programs that promote farm sustainability and food security.
Regarding agriculture, the 2008 Farm Bill offered many new programs and support systems for various crops which farmers do not want to see lost in the 2012 bill. It introduced a permanent disaster assistance program, support for producers transitioning to organic agriculture, funds for farmer’s markets, and a variety of specialty crop programs such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant to enhance specialty crop competitiveness. Brad Hollabaugh notes that “historically it [the Farm Bill] has not contained enormous resources for specialty crops [fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops]. After years of lobbying we finally were able to get a specialty crop provision that changed the way Congress distributed money. That was really key, from that development we have seen a number of very high profile projects” which “suddenly created an opportunity for specialty crops to move ahead with important issues”.
The majority of the projects Mr. Hollabaugh talks of are in the field of research. The 2008 Farm Bill established NIFA (National Institute of Food and Agriculture) to manage research funds and programs. This coordinated an effort of agricultural research, education, and extension programs to give priority to organizations working multistate, multidisciplinary, or multi-institutionally. The funding is awarded competitively and all federal grants must be matched privately, often from producers themselves.
The Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) is one of those exceptional programs which has provided monies to aid in research to fight the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and has saved the apple industry alone, according to U.S. Apple, an estimated $35 million in potential losses. Grants are also going towards upgrading research programs at land grant institutions, Rutgers IR4 Program for sustainable pest management, technology grants with Penn State and Carnegie Mellon, and various marketing initiatives. These are initiatives that are affecting producers directly― what Brad Hollabaugh says he “found to be of incredible value is that SCRI grants all have to be matched, there has to be collaboration [in] academic, private industry and production, we have a lot of entities coming together for a common goal, incredible synergy between university support for high profile grants, grower cooperation, matching what the federal government is putting in.”
The Market Access Program (MAP) and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crop (TASC) have aided the fruit export market in support of the 28% of fresh U.S. apples that are exported at a value of almost $800 million. Brad Hollabaugh says these are “critical to [the] success of export markets, something we’d really like to see retained in the Farm Bill”.
Another important aspect of the 2008 Farm Bill is the increased need for risk management for producers. Chris Baugher of the Adams County Farm Bureau says “certainly as fruit growers in Adams County we are interested in maintaining the funding for the specialty crops that was added in 2008 and the crop insurance portions are very important for us to maintain our ability to stay in business. When you have a complete crop failure in this day and age you need some sort of insurance to keep your head above water.”
Largest Block of Funding: Nutrition
Yet it is not producers who are the majority affected by the farm bill since the bulk of funds enhance nutrition and food security programs. The 2008 Farm Bill focused on programs such as the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program, Fresh Produce Education Program, as well as increasing funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, Senior’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and creating new initiatives towards community food security―promoting locally produced food and healthy eating.
However the emphasis of food security within the Farm Bill is towards benefitting the Food Stamp Program renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Gretchen Natter of the Adams County Food Policy Council explains their link to the Farm Bill― “it’s a food and farm bill- it’s about production of things but also how people are accessing food as well. For the work of the Food Policy Council, the need for SNAP benefits has been growing in our community. In 2008 the percentage of children eligible in Adams County was 4%― in 2011 that number rose to 7%. We estimate that as many as 25% of our population [in Adams County] is food insecure, in that they have to access food support or food emergency programs each month.”
The Adams County Food Policy Council is a primary local organization in the effort for increased food security. They are working with organizations such as the Adams County Farmers Markets for the Double Your Dollars Program for SNAP recipients. The program, supported by a Wellspan-Health Community Partnership Grant, is set up to match up to $10 in SNAP funds at three local farmers markets to increase access to fresh food. Gretchen Natter notes that the program increases “fresh food but also brings a new revenue stream for our producers.” It is programs such as this that are directly influenced by the decisions made in Congress regarding the Farm Bill.
Moving Forward with the 2012 Farm Bill
Through February and March the Senate held hearings to take note of various constituents’ opinions and concerns regarding the Farm Bill. Chairwoman of the Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee Debbie Stabenow, is working alongside Ranking Member Pat Roberts for the 2012 Farm Bill with a draft expected around April 25th.
The House of Representatives Agricultural Committee has scheduled hearings in April and May for further development on the Farm Bill. Since the House passed a budget resolution, their version of the Farm Bill is required to have $33.2 billion in net savings over the next ten years, which may put a strain on a unanimous Farm Bill passing between the House and Senate.
In the fall of 2011 a ‘super committee’ had been working on a draft of the Farm Bill which was not approved but it seems that cuts may be similar to their proposal with a $15 billion net cut in commodity programs, $6 billion net cut in conservation programs and a $4 billion cut from SNAP according to House Ag Committee budget resolutions. The best scenario for a timely approval of a 2012 Farm Bill would be if the Senate could draft a version and get it approved by the House in the summer time.
The House Ag committee has stated that “commodity support comprises less than 0.25% of the federal budget, but it ensures that we maintain the ability to feed our country” with their priorities being Risk Management, Strong Crop Insurance and Conservation.
The variety of interests from the North-West, the Corn Belt, southern groups and the cotton industry will challenge Congress to consider which programs are most valuable and sustainable. These groups have all made proposals towards the Farm Bill such as the Rural America Preservation Act (RAPA), the STAX Proposal, a “shallow loss” payment proposal and the Aggregate Risk and Revenue Management (AARM) Program.
The 2008 Farm Bill also included tax provisions related to biofuels, a smaller yet important initiative. When all these interests are brought together in a financially unstable year the challenge becomes even tougher. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes in maintaining “a strong safety net, we need to support sustainable productivity, and we need to promote vibrant markets.” When prompted about rural development programs Secretary Vilsack stated that “by structuring our fees and our interest rates properly, these programs cost little, if anything, to the federal taxpayers but all of them help to create jobs and improve quality of life.”
How to Get Involved
19th District Congressman Todd Platts reminds us that “the House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hold hearings on a new Farm Bill on April 25th. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on their version of the farm bill and related amendments around the same time. I will be seeking the input of our local farmers and rural communities throughout the legislative process. Any final bill must be completed in a timely manner and with thoughtful attention to the impact on jobs, nutrition, conservation, and family farms.”
As Brad Hollabaugh explains, this Farm Bill “affects a lot of people, Adams County is intensely agricultural, but this time of year it’s hard to find those moments of time after working a long hard day to sit at the computer, write a letter. It’s tough and I appreciate that―but we do have the opportunity to participate and we shouldn’t deny ourselves this opportunity with [the] Farm Bill or any other issue. Get involved!”
Any interests and comments for the 2012 Farm Bill may be made to respective Senate and House committees.
Robert Casey Jr. serves for Pennsylvania on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee which is set to be ‘marking up’ a draft this week, contact him in Harrisburg toll free at 866-461-9159 or send a direct message online at http://www.casey.senate.gov/contact/.
The House Ag committee has two PA representatives, Glenn Thompson (202) 225-5121 and Tim Holden (202) 225-5546, who can be reached at their offices. Comments to the House from the public may be made until May 20th at http://agriculture.house.gov/farmbill_feedback.html.