by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Farm-bill

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.

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.

Nov 24 2017

Farm bill #5: EWG, NASC, and other resources

I.  The Environmental Working Group

It just released its farm subsidy database for 2015 and 2016.

The new information reflects the demands of the 2014 farm bill.

The findings:

  • $32.2 billion is the total cost of federal crop insurance, disaster, and conservation programs.
  • $14.5 billion of this went mainly to growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice.
  • $12 billion went to crop insurance subsidies.
  • $3.7 billion went for conservation.
  • $2 billion went to disaster assistance.
  • Deline Farms Partnership was the #1 recipient with $4 million in commodity subsidies.
  • The Navajo Agricultural Products Industry was #2 with $2.3 million.

The website is interactive.  You can click on states and counties.

Tomkins County, New York, where Ithaca is, got $25 million in federal subsidies.

It’s fun. Check it out.

EWG also released it’s Double-Dipping report on how taxpayers are subsidizing farmers twice for crop losses.

II. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

It organized dozens of farm organizations to sign a letter calling for greater investment in agriculture through the farm bill education-and-research title.

It also released An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill.  This focuses on investing in:

  • Beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Conservation
  • Regional food economies
  • Plant research
  • Risk management

III.  Representative Chellie Pingree (Dem-Maine) is also working on farm bill issues.  

Her particular focus is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act:

  • Expands access to farmland
  • Ensures equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance
  • Encourages commitment to conservation and stewardship

Many people are working on farm bill reform.  It needs it.

Nov 23 2017

Farm bill #4: Happy Thanksgiving

Nov 22 2017

Farm Bill #3: Philip Brasher’s guide

Nov 21 2017

Farm Bill #2: Unlikely allies

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as documented by Politico in a report on the coalition of unlikely allies working to reform the farm bill.

Let me start with my favorite: The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), not exactly a bastion of radical thought.  The AEI puts out a series of thoughtful position papers, remarkable for their clarity, on a range of farm bill issues: Agriculture in Disarray.

To date, 6 have been published.

You may not agree with these American Boondoggle viewpoints, but you will have a good chance of understanding what the arguments are about.

Nov 20 2017

Farm Bill #1: Earl Blumenauer’s bill

It’s Thanksgiving week and I can’t think of a better time to talk about the farm bill.

My starting place for thinking about this topic is a short article I wrote for Politico about the previous bill: The farm bill drove me insane.

Now, House member Earl Blumenauer (Dem-Oregon) has come up with an alternative: the Food and Farm Act.  Here’s how he explains it to Civil Eats.

n a video, he calls for reform and for fixing the existing farm bill.

He explains the philosophy behind his proposals in Growing Opportunities: Reforming the Farm Bill for Every American

Not only is the Farm Bill costly and expensive, its resources are misdirected. The legislation gives too much
to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places. This misallocation is tragic because of the
power and reach of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs authorized by this legislation
every five years. The USDA is the only agency in the federal government that can build a community from
the ground up, and tackle issues like housing and infrastructure as well as all aspects of America’s farms and

To make this even easier, his campaign put together a small handbook in cartoon format: The Fight for Food: Why You Deserve a Better Farm Bill.  This is a terrific beginner’s guide, the best way I’ve ever seen to get started.

The main difficulty with the farm bill for everyone other than a lobbyist is that the issues get wonky right away.  Even the handout on  the highlights of Blumenauer’s bill has lots of wonky details and requires close attention.

I particularly like what he proposes as Title IX: Regional Food Systems (my translations):

  • Identifies the benefits
  • Expands federal investment
  • Increases funding for specialty crops (USDA-speak for fruits and vegetables)
  • Invests in local and regional systems infrastructure
  • Funds local and regional meat processing
  • Increases transparency of USDA’s grant process
  • Protects small farmers from retaliation

Idealistic?  Yes!

Possible?  Maybe, if we can ever get the political will.

Here’s something positive to support.  Get to work!