Farm Bill Update: the Good, the Bad, and the Uncertain

By: Ben Feldman, FMC Policy Specialist |       Posted On: April 16, 2018

Last Thursday, the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Mike Conaway, introduced draft farm bill legislation, which Democrats and anti-hunger groups were quick to deride. For farmers markets, the legislation in its current form would be something of a mixed bag.

The best news in the bill for farmers markets comes from the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, which would get a big jump in funding to $275 million over the next five years, assuring the program baseline funding, and naming the program after former Farmers Market Coalition Board Member, Gus Schumacher.

In more modest news, the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program would be extended at the same funding level as in the 2014 farm bill. Here at Farmers Market Coalition, we had hoped to see an expansion of the program to include low-income veterans, and will continue to work with the Senate to encourage them to include it in their version of the bill.

The bad news for farmers markets is a big one: mandatory funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) was eliminated entirely. Small in terms of funding, but mighty in impact, FMPP has proven time and again to increase sales for direct-marketing farmers. Greg Traywick, County Extension Director of Foothills Farmers Market, reported total sales per vendor increased by 240% over three years after receiving an FMPP grant. The program also helps to increase the number of vendors selling at direct-to-consumer markets, supports new farm businesses, and enables markets to hire much needed staff.

While FMPP remains authorized and has the ability to receive funding through the annual appropriations process (what’s known as discretionary funding authority), the program has never received discretionary funding and it’s unlikely that it would in the future. Given the success of the FMPP program, we hope that the House Agriculture Committee will see fit to fix this oversight and restore mandatory funding at the $30 million dollar level of the 2014 farm bill.

Read how the FMPP program helped increase Texas Rancher Amy Greer’s farmers market sales by 34%.

While the release of the House bill is an important step, the path to a new farm bill is far from over and it’s unclear what that path will look like. Normally, members of the committee would offer amendments through what is known as “markup.” Markup is scheduled for this week, but it remains unclear how that process will go and whether Democrats will even offer amendments. Even once the bill passes out of committee, there is no guarantee enough votes will be secured to pass the bill on the House floor.

Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee continues to work on their version of the bill without the partisan rancour that exists in the House, and reportedly without the same SNAP work restrictions. Should both chambers pass a bill before the September 30th deadline, they will still need to reconcile the bills.

While the path forward is uncertain, it is important for legislators in both the House and Senate to hear from you, particularly with regards to the Farmers Market Promotion Program. Please contact your legislators to express your desire to see FMPP funded at the same $30 million level as in the 2014 farm bill.

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