Deborah Mcdermott reports on the inclusion of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act in the 2012 Farm Bill, and other good news. From SeacoastOnline:
Score one in Washington for the diversified farmer
So, how about a change of pace? How about some good news out of Washington?
Last Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved — by a decisive and bipartisan 12-4 margin — a five-year Farm Bill.
I’m sure there’s plenty of pork, pun (I guess) intended, for industrial agriculture, but some significant policy reforms were made. Not only does it tighten up payments to commodity farming interests — in and of itself something to shout about — but it also at least begins to address the disparity between, say, Cargill and the small, diversified New England farmer.
“It’s a significant step,” said Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who has championed the small farmer in her work on the House Agriculture Committee. “I feel great about what’s in the bill.”
Pingree, lead sponsor of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which has more than 70 co-sponsors in the House, was on the other side of the Capitol last week, working the Senate Agriculture Committee to get portions of her bill into the Senate version of the Farm Bill.
She was joined by many of the same ilk, including the Union of Concerned Scientists that recently released a report called “Ensuring the Harvest,” detailing the need of reform for the small farmer.
For instance, and most significantly, the bill contains language that will allow diversified farms — those that grow more than one kind of crop — to access crop insurance programs.
Get this: Right now, only farmers planting a sea of corn or soybeans to feed the giant processed food machine are able to get crop insurance. If you’re a small farmer who grows multiple vegetables and fruit in season, maybe raises some livestock, and who sells them at the local farmers market, you’re pretty much out of luck.
The Farm Bill would change that, allowing small farmers to get competitive insurance. As the UCS says in its report, “A comprehensive revenue insurance policy would … be cheaper for diversified farms to purchase, since the premium would reflect the fact that the farms were undertaking diversified practices.”
Other measures in the Farm Bill that would help the small farmer include the following:
An improved farmers market promotion program that provides grants for marketing assistance.
An organic cost-share program that provides help to farmers making the shift from conventional to organic farming.
A requirement that the USDA study the economy of local foods and report back to Congress to make it easier to track the economic benefit of local food systems.
The crop insurance aside, these are small steps, to be sure, when one considers the ingrained mindset of Congress toward agribusiness. But I think it’s a good story to tell nonetheless.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is “a great champion” of the small farmer and “very good on organic,” Pingree said. “But every little thing is a negotiation. We couldn’t get everything we wanted. I’m ready to overhaul agriculture tomorrow, but we made some strides. It’s the old way clashing with the new way, and sometimes that takes a while.” Read more…