by Marion Nestle
Sep 22 2012

The Farm Bill: R.I.P.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has this to say about our dysfunctional Congress’s leaving town without passing the 2012 Farm Bill:

In a year that has brought its share of challenges to America’s farmers and ranchers, the House Republicans have added new uncertainty for rural America.

Unfortunately, House Republicans left Washington without passing comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation, leaving thousands of farming families exposed.

U.S. agriculture is fighting to maintain the tremendous momentum it has built over the past three years, but with natural disasters and other external forces threatening livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers, certainty is more important than ever.

Americans deserve a food, farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities, promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families. Without the certainty of a multi-year bill, rural communities are being asked to shoulder undue burdens.

  • Congress doesn’t care because rural America is part of the 47%.

  • HighlySkeptical

    Yes yes yes – how terrible for farmers to suffer not knowing how large their subsidies will be. Will I make $200,000 or 225,000 on my subsidy for that Dent corn destined to end up as HFCS? The agony must be terrible. Almost as bad as the farmer’s conscience. Does Vilsack really think most of America doesn’t know about this racket? But we do & we’re sick of it.

  • Genie

    Saying that House Republicans are at fault for our dysfunctional Congress not passing the 2012 Farm Bill is myopic. It takes two to tango, Mr. Vilsack. House Democrats make up the other half of the attendees and if we can’t compromise and find some middle ground on this bill and others, we need another set of dancers.

  • Michael Bulger

    The House GOP leaders have been saying that the reason that they are blocking the farm bill is because it does not have enough votes to pass the House. Others have been skeptical of this excuse and have instead suggested that the House GOP leaders don’t want to be seen voting for a bill that spends so much on SNAP (food stamps) – just before the election. That the farm bill would actually cut overall spending, and most likely would cap subsidies to wealthy farms, does not seem to matter at the moment.

    According to a bipartisan group of Representatives, there are enough House votes to pass the House farm bill and send it to conference with the Senate. Apparently, the House GOP leaders never even did a count of votes before they declared the farm bill would not pass. Given both that the farm bill backers say they have the numbers to pass the bill, and that House leaders never did an official count, it appears the House GOP leaders are indeed blocking the Farm Bill for political reasons.

  • FarmerJane

    Even though I am an old farm woman, I like to “Occupy Dairy” now and then. So, here goes: Many dairy farmers I speak with feel that they had no power and no input into the Farm Bill process. Some farmers feel that farm organizations like Farm Bureau, huge dairy cooperatives and even Farmers Union are out of touch with the average farmers. Commodity farmers feel alone, and most feel that the “food movement” is actually AGAINST them.
    Even Rep. Colin Peterson noted that “there is no groundswell from the grassroots” on dairy. The average farmers are subjected to competing government visions. The federal Farm Bill would set “supply management” in place with margin insurance geared towards limiting milk production. In contrast, Governor Cuomo recently exhorted dairy farmers to get bigger and produce more milk at the August “Yogurt Summit”. Making more milk at the same price would supply cheap milk feedstocks for Pepsi, Chobani, Alpina, etc.. By quirk of federal milk market rules, the more milk that is sold into yogurt in NY, the LESS the farmers are paid. Mixed signals!
    The real grassroots action by dairy farmers remains unreported by urban media or “food movement” writers. Last week, dairy farmers staged a street demonstration in Sacramento demanding fair trade milk prices. This followed on the heels of dairy farmer demonstrations in England where farmer physically blocked routes to milk plants and refused to allow milk trucks to go through as huge supermarket chains squeeze them on the price of milk. We bargain with some of the same global corporations. UK farmers re-mixed their protest music with US-style lyrics and passed the farmer protest music “over the pond” to the US dairy farmers. This is the first I have ever heard of international sharing of farmer protest music. Last week’s dairy farmer demonstration, the first I know of since 1985, was unexpectedly successful. More farmers will march on Governor Jerry Brown’s office on October 18, 2012. See
    In the court room, independent dairy farmers brought antitrust litigation against Dean Foods, complaining of massive market consolidation and price setting to farmers. Dean Foods has quietly settled for $145,000,000 with these farmers, one of the largest food litigation settlements ever, to avoid a jury trial. Again, little or no reporting on this hugely successful lawsuit brought by courageous farmers who literally risked the farm to serve as plaintiffs.
    Grassroots dairy farmers around the country have launched a petition to USDA Secretary Vilsack under Section 608(c)(18) of the enabling legislation of the federal dairy market order demanding a hearing on emergency milk price setting. Again, both mainstream media and food movement writers have ignored what is happening to the average dairy farmer across the US. Drought12 has brought disaster as we compare the USDA All Milk Price to what it costs us to produce a 100 pounds of milk. USDA figures show the average farmer loss per 100 pounds produced as follows: June $8.65; May $8.35; April $7.12, etc.
    People who might be interested in the Farm Bill and the future of rural America and food have no way of knowing about these events. I’d like to know if food movement writers like Tom Philpott, Naomi Kleinman, Michael Pollan, Tom Laskawy, Twilight Greenway, Michele Simon, to name a few, will speak to and write about grassroots commodity farmers? We need the NYTImes to go beyond recipes and photos of pretty cows to dig deep into rural economies, the farmers’ stories and the global food companies that control our destinies. We need real agricultural reporting in mainstream media on the complexities of rural ag economies and the Farm Bill. When will any of this happen?

  • Genie,

    The Farm Bill didn’t even make it to the floor for a vote, and that’s directly the responsibility of the Republican leadership.

    You can’t blame the minority party for the majority party’s actions.

    The Senate did compromise. And it did pass a farm bill.

  • NYFarmGirl

    I don’t agree with FarmerJane above. There IS a groundswell for dairy. It’s called raw milk. I recommend that the dairies that are worried about prices do the same thing that vegetable and meat farms have done to increase their revenue: don’t get bigger, get more sustainable (which might mean smaller), and reach your market directly. Even if a dairy chooses to pasteurize, they can reach local markets. Check out Ronnybrook in NYS as a good example…they don’t have to market to Chobani! Or how about Seven Stars in PA? Dharma Lea, also in NYS, sells to Maple Hill Creamery. Counting on a Farm Bill is just more of the same. Farmers need to change the paradigm if they want to break free of the same old same old.

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