by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Farm-policy

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?

Sep 25 2018

A glimmer into the stunning effects of our trade war with China

I find the details of trade policy almost impossible to understand (so many arcane rules, so many countries), and am grateful whenever I read something crystal clear.

Politico explains (behind a paywall, alas) how our trade war with China is hurting US soybean farmers, beginning with:

The good news: The European Union is buying lots more US soybeans than it used to.  Purchases are up 133% over last year, and now account for 52% of EU soybean imports.

The bad news: The EU is buying US soybeans because they are cheap.  Because China is not buying US soybeans, there is a glut; prices have fallen by 20%.

Estimates are that the EU will buy $2.5 billion this year.  But last year, China bought $12.3 billion in soybeans.  That’s nearly a $10 billion loss unless other buyers can be found (the estimate is a $7 billion loss).

China is now buying soybeans from Brazil, and at premium prices.

Here’s what the American Soybean Association has to say about all this.

One more indicator:  Politico also mentions an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal detailing how more than 2,500 US dairy farmers have resorted to GoFundMe campaigns to save their farms.

I wish we grew more food for people instead of food for animals or fuel for cars, and that our agricultural policy linked to health policy.

Maybe if we did that, we wouldn’t be in this situation.  But GoFundMe campaigns?

Maybe we just need real agricultural policies.

Sep 18 2018

What should be done to repopulate and reinvigorate rural America?

I’m catching up on reading and just came across the USDA’s annual report, Rural America at a Glance, 2017.

Rural areas, says the USDA, face challenges:

  • Outmigration
  • Increased adult mortality (opioid use)
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty

What does USDA suggest as the solution?  Broadband.

I’m for insisting that media companies get broadband into rural areas right now. (I have plenty of personal experience with the broadband dead zone between Whitney Point and Ithaca in upstate New York), but that’s not enough.

How about doing something to promote smaller scale, less industrial farming that would bring people back into those areas, and give them meaningful work.

Rural America is turning into America’s Third World.  That’s not good for anyone.

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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 28 2018

Memorial Day Food for Thought

Image result for know your farmer know your food

May 25 2018

Weekend reading: Farms and rural communities at risk

American Farmland Trust has a new report out documenting the rapid loss of farmland to urban and suburban development.

Action Aid USA has videos demonstrating how “Agribusiness Is Devastating to Family Farmers, Rural Communities, and the Environment.”

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)