by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Farm-bill

Oct 2 2018

The farm bill expired. Now what?

Because our dysfunctional Congress did not pass the farm bill by midnight on Sunday, the 2014 bill has expired.

What does this mean?  Basically, the USDA hasn’t decided anything yet but a lot depends on the authorization status of each program (recall: the farm bill covers hundreds of programs).

  • Programs with permanent budget authorization—SNAP and Crop Insurance, for example—keep going.
  • Programs without authorization—the 40 or so “orphans”—terminate.
  • Programs authorized by the farm bills of 1938 and 1949 that have been updated and modernized revert back to the rules for those those years—certain dairy programs are especially affected.

The Congressional Research Service has a quick summary of the implications of the non-passage of the farm bill.

As for why Congress couldn’t get this bill passed, the big barriers are SNAP and conservation.

Recall that SNAP, formerly food stamps, is in the farm bill as a result of classic logrolling in the Johnson era.  Johnson got legislators from farm states to vote for food stamps in return for votes from urban legislators for farm supports.  At the time, the food stamp program was piloted in 40 counties and 3 cities with a total of under 400,000 participants.  Its cost was a fraction of the total farm bill cost.

In 2017, SNAP had more than 42 million participants at a total cost in benefits and administration of $68 billion—nearly 80% of the total cost of the bill.

Image result for snap percent of farm bill

SNAP looks like a honey pot to legislators looking for funds to make up for the tax cuts.  They have proposed additional work requirements.

These are sure to reduce enrollments.  Mathematica Policy Research says the House farm bill (HR 2 (115)) would cause 2 million households to lose SNAP eligibility.

Conservation is another issue.  Senators write that they cannot support a farm bill that does not promote conservation.

New to the farm bill?  Want to find out more?

Jun 18 2018

Where are we on the farm bill?

Let’s start with FERN’s (Food and Agriculture Reporting Network) truly helpful, 7-minute video explaining what the Farm Bill is about.

And then there’s my overview from Politico.

With all that said, the House and Senate agriculture committees have each produced their own versions of the bill and we are waiting for the votes.  So these are preliminary, pending arguments, amendments, changes, and, eventually, reconciliation.

The big food movement issues are the SNAP and Horticulture (translation: fruit, vegetable, and organics) titles.  Browse around and see what Congress is and is not doing to link agricultural policy to health policy.

More to come when we see what gets passed.

May 23 2018

Yes, the USDA is still giving direct payments to Big Ag

The Government Accountability Office reports that

Under the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill), each member of a farming operation that is a general partnership can generally receive directly or indirectly up to $125,000 per year through the applicable programs if the member meets eligibility requirements, including being determined to be actively engaged in farming.

The GAO’a full report provides the data for 2015:

For those USDA program payments requiring active engagement in farming, we determined that

  • USDA distributed about $2.7 billion in payments to 95,417 entities, such as corporations, general partnerships, joint ventures, and limited liability companies;
  • USDA distributed an average of $884,495 in payments to the 50 farming operations receiving the highest payments for 2015; and
  • General partnership members’ payments were predominantly based on members’ claimed contributions of combined management and labor (74.6 percent) and management (23.1 percent), while labor was 2.3 percent.

To game this system, it’s best to have many individuals qualifying for maximum payments.  Here’s how that works:

Will the new farm bill, if it ever passes, do a better job of supporting small farmers and fruit-and-vegetable (“specialty crop”) producers?  It doesn’t look like it at this point, alas.

Apr 18 2018

Where are we on the Farm Bill?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has scored the farm bill (“HR 2”) meaning that they have estimated its costs.

Here’s the CBO summary, and its key paragraph in perfect CBO-speak (I’ve divided the sentences up into bullets to make this a bit easier to read):

  • Relative to spending projected under CBO’s April 2018 baseline, CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 2 would increase direct spending by $3.2 billion over the 2019-2023 period.
  • Following the rules specified in BBEDCA [Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act], CBO has incorporated the assumption that the changes made to those programs would continue after 2023, the final year of authorization under the bill.
  • On that basis, CBO estimates that direct spending would decrease by $2.7 billion over the 2024-2028 period, for a net increase in direct spending of $0.5 billion over the 2019-2028 period.
  • CBO also estimates that enacting the bill would increase revenues by $0.5 billion over the 2019-2028 period.

Huh?  Got that?

Next, we have the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s analyses of key Farm Bill provisions.  Start with these from the bottom up for Farm Bill 101:

  • RELEASE: END OF PAYMENT LIMITATIONS WOULD PAVE WAY FOR FURTHER FARM CONSOLIDATION: End of Payment Limitations Would Pave Way for Further Farm Consolidation House Draft Farm Bill proposes to eliminate annual subsidy caps, opening subsidy floodgates Washington, DC, April 16, 2018 – Included in the draft farm bill presented by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) last […]
  • DRAFT HOUSE FARM BILL: ORGANIC AGRICULTURE:  This is the sixth and final post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on April 12, 2018 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX). Previous posts focused on: beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, crop insurance and commodity subsidies local/regional food systems and rural development, research and seed breeding, and […]
  • DRAFT HOUSE FARM BILL: CONSERVATION: This is the fifth post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on April 12, 2018 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX). Previous posts focused on: beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, crop insurance and commodity subsidies local/regional food systems and rural development, and research and seed breeding. The bill […]
  • DRAFT HOUSE FARM BILL: RESEARCH AND SEED BREEDING: This is the fourth post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on April 12, 2018 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX). The first was on beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, the second on crop insurance and commodity subsidies, and the third on local/regional food systems. The bill is […]
  • DRAFT HOUSE FARM BILL: LOCAL & REGIONAL FOOD AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT: This is the third post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on April 12, 2018 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX). The first was on beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and the second on crop insurance and commodity subsidies. The bill is expected to be considered and “marked-up” […]
  • DRAFT HOUSE FARM BILL: CROP INSURANCE AND COMMODITY PROGRAMS: This is the second post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on April 12, 2018 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX). The first was on beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, the third on local/regional food systems, and the fourth on research and seed breeding. The bill is expected to […]
  • DRAFT HOUSE FARM BILL: BEGINNING AND SOCIALLY DISADVANTAGED FARMERS: This is the first post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on April 12, 2018 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX). Subsequent posts focus on: crop insurance and commodity subsidies local/regional food systems and rural development, research and seed breeding, conservation, and organic agriculture. The bill is expected to be considered and […]
  • RELEASE: DRAFT FARM BILL DELIVERS KNOCK-OUT PUNCH TO “TINY BUT MIGHTY” PROGRAMS:  Local/regional food system and rural development programs are among the hardest hit Washington, DC, April 13, 2018 – At a price tag of well over $800 billion dollars, the farm bill wouldn’t be considered by […]
  • RELEASE: THE FACTS ABOUT WORKING LANDS CONSERVATION IN THE HOUSE DRAFT FARM BILL:  Yesterday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) presented a draft farm bill to America’s farmers and ranchers that would eradicate the nation’s largest voluntary […]
  • COMMENT: AMERICAN AGRICULTURE NEEDS A STRONG FARM BILL, DRAFT HOUSE BILL DOESN’T DELIVER:  Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) introduced his draft of the 2018 […]

As for the Farm Bill itself:

  • Farm Bill (Nutrition on pp 223-305 /Nutrition Education on p. 292):
  • Section-by-Section (Nutrition Begins on p. 24/Nutrition Education on p. 30)
Apr 13 2018

Weekend reading: The Farm Bill

It will take more than a weekend to figure out what is actually in this 641-page monster.

Its table of contents alone is 13 pages.

The House produced a section-by-section summary 

It also produced a quick overview of the top-ten highlights.

This draft calls for an expenditure of about $865 billion over 10 years.

Lots of groups have lots to say about this bill.

My favorite quote comes from Mike Conaway, chair of the House Agriculture Committee:

Except for the SNAP portion, this is a bipartisan bill.

Some exception.

The farm bill always presents a forest vs. trees problem.  It is an enormous collection of trees.

I found this one especially interesting: Sec. 4003. Gus Schumacher food insecurity nutrition incentive program.

If I understand it correctly, this is to fund pilot projects to promote fruit and vegetable consumption in low-income communities.  If it survives, it might be a fitting tribute to Gus, who died in 2017 after a long career promoting agriculture as a means to improve public health.

Happy reading.  No telling what will happen to this, but it will be interesting to watch.  Stay tuned.


Apr 6 2018

Weekend reading: Intro to the Farm Bill

The 2018 Farm Bill is due in six months but it impossible to follow without a scorecard.  Fortunately, we have help.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Harvard’s Law School Food Law & Policy Clinic in collaboration with a group of other law-school programs has produced a series of reports on its Farm Bill website.

These are grounded in history and organized by issue and goal.  They are a great place to start to understand the issues.

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Jan 25 2018

USDA Secretary issues guiding principles for farm bill

Secretary Sonny Perdue has released his blueprint for the 2018 farm bill.

Its goal is to “improve services while reducing regulatory burdens on USDA customers” [translation: Big Ag].

USDA, he says, supports legislation that will do a great many things for farm production, conservation, trade, food and nutrition services, marketing, food safety, research and education, and natural resources.

There are a lot of words here and it’s hard to know what they mean, even reading between the lines.

For example, here are USDA’s principles for SNAP (food stamps), with my [translations and questions]:

• Harness America’s agricultural abundance to support nutrition assistance for those truly in need.  [This sounds like a food distribution program, but I’m wondering how “truly in need” will be defined.]
• Support work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for individuals and families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance.  [This means work requirements, but where will the jobs come from?]
• Strengthen the integrity and efficiency of food and nutrition programs to better serve our participants and protect American taxpayers by reducing waste, fraud and abuse through shared data, innovation, and technology modernization. [This means spending hundreds of millions a year on fraud prevention].
• Encourage state and local innovations in training, case management, and program design that promote self-sufficiency and achieve long-term, stability in employment.  [The jobs?]
• Assure the scientific integrity of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans process through greater transparency and reliance on the most robust body of scientific evidence.  [Weren’t they always based on the available science?  This sounds like a way to prevent the guidelines from suggesting eating less of junk foods].
• Support nutrition policies and programs that are science based and data driven with clear and measurable outcomes for policies and programs. [This one translates to you can’t set nutrition policies unless you can demonstrate beneficial outcomes—fine in theory, but policy-blocking in practice].

Reading through the other sections is equally non-reassuring.  Where is a vision for a farm bill that promotes health, sustainable agriculture, and small or mid-size farms, protects farm workers, and reduces greenhouse gases?

Maybe the next one?

Jan 17 2018

Crop insurance, like much else these days, goes to the rich

Crop insurance is the big issue in the forthcoming farm bill.  The American Enterprise Institute doesn’t like it much, and for good reason.  On the theory that one picture is worth a thousand words, here’s why

The blue bars are the percentages of total farm bill subsidies.  The yellow bars are subsidies per acre.  If you thought that subsidies helped small or medium farms, think again.

Whether you agree with the AEI or not, its American Boondoggle reports are always worth reading for their remarkably clear explanation of the hugely complicated farm bill issues.

This one, for example, tells you everything you need to know about how crop insurance really works—and at taxpayer expense.