Washington, – At a price tag of well over $800 billion dollars, the farm bill wouldn’t be considered by many to be a lean legislative package. There are, however, nearly a dozen programs in the bill that are increasingly becoming known as the “tiny but mighty” – programs that receive relatively small funding allocations but have historically provided outsize benefits for American family farmers and food producing communities. Despite the penchant on Capitol Hill to celebrate programs that “do more with less,” the draft farm bill released yesterday by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) proposes to slash over $350 million from these twelve hard-working programs. The draft bill would also completely eliminate six of the twelve programs, which have for years served as crucial support to regional food economies and rural conservation and renewable energy efforts.
Many of the tiny but mighty programs are targeted toward strengthening local and regional food systems and ensuring that rural and food producing communities have the tools and resources to capitalize on farm-to-fork economic opportunities. Because most of these programs do not have permanent funding as commodity and crop insurance subsidies do, Congress must actively choose to refund them in each farm bill cycle in order for the programs to continue.
The chart below shows the funding levels of the non-baseline programs of most concern to the sustainable agriculture community, comparing their 2014 Farm Bill funding levels with the levels proposed for the 2018 Farm Bill by the Chairman’s draft bill:
While the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is very pleased to see that a few of these programs made it through the gauntlet unscathed – and two even received well-deserved funding increases – we are stunned that the Chairman would choose to completely gut six of these critical and extremely effective programs:
- Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program: Competitive grants program that supports a variety of direct-to-consumer, local/regional food projects, including: farmers markets, food hubs, and other food business enterprises that act as intermediaries between producers and consumers.
- National Organic Cost Share Program: Helps small and mid-sized organic farm businesses afford certification costs.
- Risk Management Education Partnership Program: Establishes partnerships with local agencies and organizations to help farmers, particularly beginning farmers, understand the risks they face and how to manage those risks on their farms.
- Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program: Fills the financing gap for very small rural businesses by providing loans and grants to local economic development groups, which in turn provide technical services and microloans to start-up rural small business owners.
- Rural Energy for America Program: Provides grants and guaranteed loans for planning, development, and implementation of renewable energy production and energy efficiency improvement projects.
- Value-Added Producer Grants : Fosters food and farm entrepreneurship by supporting new and expanding farmer-owned businesses working to increase profitability and capture a larger share of the consumer food dollar.
American family farmers know that healthy farms and strong rural and urban communities alike benefit from investments in local and regional food systems, renewable energy, and entrepreneurship. Without the assistance of the programs listed above, however, many will have no way to access the resources they need to effectively take their businesses to the next level. Eliminating funding for these six programs will not only will it severely hamper the growth of one of agriculture’s most promising industries and take away opportunities for prosperity from American farmers, it will also produce no significant savings in the farm bill for taxpayers.
NSAC urges Congress to not be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to programs that provide vital services to American families and farmers across the country. We hope that members in both the House and the Senate will see the considerable value (both in impact and in dollars) of these programs, and ensure that the 2018 Farm Bill makes the right choice – to invest in a sustainable and profitable future for American agriculture.