Some comments on the progress of the farm bill
I haven’t said anything recently about the current status of the farm bill, mainly because it is too early in the political process to know what is going to happen.
The bill still has a long way to go. It must be passed by the Senate. The House has to pass an equivalent bill. The two bills must be reconciled. The final bill must be signed by the President.
Otherwise, the current farm bill expires on September 30.
As is always the case with anything having to do with the farm bill, the devil is in the details. The number of programs covered by the bill is vast, and the details even more so.
In efforts to align agricultural policy with health policy, the current proposal makes a little headway. The proposed bill funds:
- $150 million annually for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program
- $50 million per year for the Defense Department Fresh program, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and service institutions
- $70 million annually for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program
- $25 million annually for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, to go to $50 million by 2017
- $60 million in 2013 up to $65 million 2017 for pest and disease management programs
- $200 million annually for The Market Access Program and $9 million for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program
- $100 million over 5 years for the Hunger-Free Communities Grant Program for fruit and vegetable SNAP incentives
- $100 million over 5 years for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
- $406 million annually for Section 32 specialty crop purchases
This looks like a lot—and from the standpoint of incremental change it is a lot—but these numbers are millions, not billions, and in farm bill terms can be considered “mere rounding errors.”
The farm bill currently costs taxpayers $85 billion a year, with $72 billion of that going for SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
The rest of the big money goes to the Big Agriculture growers of commodity crops, mainly in the form of crop insurance.
Here too, the proposed bill includes one small but significant measure. For the first time, it provides for crop insurance for diversified farms—those that grow a variety of “specialty” crops (translation: fruits and vegetables).
Even the most critical commentators think the current proposal, despite its evident flaws, represents the best that can be expected given current political realities.
Let’s hope the good parts of the proposal survive the rest of the legislative process.
Addition, May 24: A reader points out that another bright spot is that the Senate bill also included $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative.