Summary of Senate Farm Bill Draft

      Posted On: April 23, 2012

Late in the day last Friday, April 20th, the Senate Agriculture Committee released its draft of the Farm Bill, which is scheduled for “mark-up” by the committee this Wednesday.  The Bill achieves $26 billion in cost savings over ten years, but simultaneously takes great strides to increase support for farmers markets and local food.

FMC, and staff at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, spent some time over the weekend piecing through this 900 page document, so that we could pull out the relevant provisions and save you some time.

Here are the important provisions related to FMC’s 2012 Policy Priorities:

— The Farmers Market Promotion Program would increase to $20 million per year for 2013 to 2017, and become the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, to develop, improve, expand, and provide outreach, training, and technical assistance for

(A) Direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities; and

(B) Local and regional food enterprises that process, distribute, aggregate, store, and market locally or regionally produced food products.

In each grant cycle, 50% of funds will be available for projects related to direct marketing, and 50% to other non-direct local food projects. A cost share of 25% would be required for projects under new part B.

The Senate bill would put a priority on proposed projects that—

1. benefit underserved communities

2. develop market opportunities for small and mid-sized farm and ranch operations

3.  include a strategic plan to maximize the use of funds to build capacity for local and regional food systems in a community.

The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act calls for $30 million a year, a level FMC believes to be critical to accommodate for the new addition of local and regional aggregation and distribution projects.

— The Horticulture Title creates a study on local food production and program evaluation, which is critically important.  Unfortunately, the study receives no mandatory funding.

— The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) receives a mandatory funding increase from $55 million to $70 million per year.

— The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program was funded at its existing level of $20 million annually and would receive no increase to its mandatory allocation, despite ongoing gaps between program participant need and funding provided to states for the program.

— The Nutrition Title establishes a pilot program for mobile application technology to accept SNAP EBT at farmers markets and other direct marketing outlets, but the pilot does not take a holistic approach by trying to develop technology that can accept other nutrition assistance program benefits, which would further expand access to fresh, local foods for low-income Americans

In other good news, the Senate Farm Bill draft would:

— Fund Community Food Projects at $10 million annually (a $5 million increase)

— Provide discretionary funding of $5 million/year for Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), which provides research-based information on sustainable agriculture

— Provide mandatory funding of $11.5 million annually for the Organic Certification Cost-Share program.

The Senate is scheduled to mark up this draft on Wednesday April 25th, when committee members’ proposed amendments will be considered. FMC is urging its members to take action on April 24th by writing and calling members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, with more information and  a sample script available here.

Later this spring, when the Farm Bill makes it to the floor for discussion, FMC will provide members with additional opportunities to improve farmers market provisions in the Farm Bill.