FMC Analysis: Why the 2018 Farm Bill is Good for Farmers Markets

      Posted On: December 13, 2018

by Ben Feldman, FMC Policy Director |

Farmers and market managers join FMC to visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for farmers market programs in the farm bill.

After months of inaction and political maneuvering, Congress has hit the gas on the farm bill, introducing the Farm Bill Conference Report late Monday night, and then holding votes in both the Senate and House on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The report represents the final compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bill, and includes important wins for farmers markets, farmers, and local food. In the end, the report leaned heavily on the Senate’s bill with regard to farmers markets; good news for our industry as the House proposal would have made massive cuts to key programs.

The bill now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it before the end of the week.

This achievement couldn’t have happened without the many calls, emails, and office visits that FMC members made over the last 18 months. This year, FMC engaged with 129 different legislative offices, while many of you met with and hosted your state and local officials at market.

Nine months ago, we were facing the very real prospect of the elimination of FMPP and the significant benefits that it brings our industry, but you stepped up to demonstrate the tremendous impact farmers, market managers, and local food leaders can make when we work together. The results speak for themselves, and we can’t thank you enough for standing shoulder to shoulder with FMC and advocates across the country to fight for the future of our local food systems.

So what are those wins for local food? Let’s take a look:

  • Permanent, baseline funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), a new program that combines the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), and the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) into a comprehensive local food program (see page 408).
    • The Program is to receive $50 million dollars per year (which gets the program to the permanent baseline level and ensures its continuation even if the farm bill expires) with 47% going to FMLFPP grants. While this represents a drop from funding specifically for FMLFPP as compared to the 2014 farm bill, the drop is offset by the security of baseline funding, as well as additional funding in LAMP for related activities.
    • One such example is the Grants to Support Partnerships, designed “to support partnerships to plan and develop a local or regional food system.”
    • FMLFPP applications also now require a 25% match from the applicant.
  • Language directing USDA Food and Nutrition Service to resolve its longstanding “one machine per location” policy, and allow farmers markets “to operate an individual electronic benefit transfer point of sale device at more than 1 location under the same supplemental nutrition assistance program authorization.” FMC members have, for years, expressed concern about the barrier this policy has presented to expanding SNAP access (you can read this language on page 149 of the report).
  • A big increase in funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program, which will also be renamed to honor local food pioneer and former FMC board member, Gus Schumacher.
    • Funding for the program will ramp up from $45 million in 2019, to $56 million in 2023. As with LAMP, this gets the program to permanent, baseline levels so that the program will continue even if the farm bill expires.
    • Evaluation requirements are simplified to eliminate redundant and sometimes burdensome reporting requirements, and increases training, technical support, and information sharing.
    • Includes funding for produce prescription grants through a seperate application process.
  • Continued funding for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
  • The bill also contains what is known as “report language” that directs USDA “to take appropriate action to ensure that EBT service is not disrupted and SNAP customers maintain the ability to use their benefits at farmers markets.” While report language doesn’t carry the force of law, it still is an important signal to USDA that Congress is aware and keeping track of this issue, particularly given the ongoing questions surrounding the shutdown of Novo Dia, one of the largest wireless SNAP processors for farmers markets.

What Happens Next?

Once the bill is signed by the President, implementation of the various provisions of the bill will begin to be put into effect. This happens as the agencies tasked with each provision create regulations through the process of “rulemaking”. How rapidly the farmers market provisions listed above are implemented depends on a number of factors. Programs with only minor changes, like FMLFPP and VAPG, typically don’t require rulemaking and will likely only need small changes to the Request for Proposals. This would put them on track for a similar timetable of previous years.  

At the opposite end of the spectrum, USDA Food and Nutrition Service could take some time to implement changes to the “one machine per location” policy. Given that there is no written guidance on the policy, the agencies’ previous concern about altering the policy, and its generally wary approach, it is likely that the changes will go through a rulemaking process, and may not be implemented quickly.

Stay Engaged!

Of course, FMC will continue to keep you all updated on implementation developments as they happen. Politics is always moving and changing and we must stay engaged and vigilant. Stay in touch with your members of Congress. Stay connected to the issues. Donate to FMC’s advocacy efforts. Get out to market each week and support family farmers. These ways and others are how we can transform our local food systems together.

In the meantime, take a moment to celebrate this victory for local food and farmers markets – you deserve it!