Draft Senate Farm Bill: Local & Regional Food and Rural Development

Spring onions at the farmers market. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik

Spring onions at the farmers market. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik

This is the fourth post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on June 8, 2018 by the Senate Agriculture Committee. Subsequent posts will focus on crop insurance and commodity subsidies and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. The bill is expected to be considered and “marked-up” (aka amended) by the full Agriculture Committee on June 13 and on the Senate floor later this month. We expect further improvements to the food system provisions in the bill during mark-up and will report on those through updated and future posts.

Consumer demand for local and regional products is on the rise nationwide. The growth of this marketplace has necessitated the development of “farm-to-fork” pipelines through which farmers, food-related businesses, and consumers can easily connect. This is no small task, however, and lagging federal investments in infrastructure and farm-to-fork value chains has meant that many producers still struggle to break into the marketplace.

Thankfully, the draft farm bill introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) helps to connect the dots between farmers and new markets by investing in local and regional food systems. This bill stands in stark contrast to the failed House bill, which would have actively undermined the very programs and systems that have been the shining stars of the local and regional food renaissance.

The Senate Agriculture Committee Farm Bill incorporates many of the provisions of the Local Food and Regional Market Supply (FARMS) Act, which was introduced in both the House and the Senate and endorsed by NSAC as well as many other farm and food advocates. Most notably, the bill includes the centerpiece of the Local FARMS Act: the streamlining of the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), Value-Added Producers Grant Program (VAPG), Value Chain Coordinators, and a new regional public-private partnership intiative into a single program that builds on the success of existing investments, while also establishing permanent farm bill baseline funding. Permanent baseline funding ensures that a program has a minimum amount of funding in perpetuity; farm bill programs without permanent baseline must negotiate funding from scratch in each new farm bill cycle.

Below, we include a summary of the key takeaways on how the draft Senate bill approaches local and regional food system and rural development programs.

Highlights

  • Creates the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) and provides the program with $60 million per year in mandatory funds in perpetuity.
    • LAMP is almost identical to the Agricultural Market Development Program of the Local FARMS Act, an NSAC-endorsed marker bill that has been introduced in the House and the Senate.
    • The program streamlines the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Value-Added Producers Grant Program into a single program, and includes a public private partnership provision that uses federal resources to leverage private investment and encourage “food-shed” level approaches to developing regional food economies.
    • The Senate Committee bill also incorporates into LAMP a new food safety practice and cost-share assistance program, which provides financial assistance to producers to help farmers become food safety certified and make necessary upgrades to on-farm food safety infrastructure.
  • Reauthorizes the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program and provides $50 million per year in mandatory permanent baseline funding.
  • Requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to have an Under Secretary for Rural Development, overturning a decision – denounced by NSAC and many other family farm advocates – made last year by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to eliminate that position. The Administration attempted to spin the demotion of USDA’s Rural Development Mission Area and removal of its Under Secretary as an “elevation” – arguing that because the office would henceforth report directly to the Secretary, rural development needs would receive greater attention. In reality, this decision – taken together with the Administration’s attempt to wipe out rural business programs, water and sewer loans, and grants for rural communities through the appropriations process – was a clear attack on rural communities.
  • Authorizes and provides $4 million per year in mandatory funding for a new produce prescription pilot program, “Harvesting Health Pilots.”
  • Instructs USDA to allow farmers markets to operate an individual EBT (electronic benefits transfer) device for accepting SNAP benefits at more than one location. This change resolves a long standing barrier to operating efficient and cost-effective SNAP EBT systems at farmers markets, a problem that farmers and food advocates have been trying to address for years.
  • Creates a new “Urban, Indoor, and Other Emerging Agricultural Production Research, Education and Extension Initiative” competitive grants program with $4 million per year in mandatory funding.
  • Instructs USDA to create a new “Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production” with a 15 member advisory committee, and directs USDA’s Farm Service Agency to create farm record numbers for rooftop farms, indoor farms, and other urban agriculture sites.
  • Reauthorizes the Healthy Food Financing Initiative and expands it to include healthy food enterprises in general, not just food retailers.

Mixed Bag

  • Reauthorizes the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program with $20.6 million per year in mandatory funding, but it does not expand the program to include veterans or increase funding relative to the 2014 Farm Bill.

Lowlights

  • Fails to include additional mandatory funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.
  • Fails to reform guidelines on geographic preference for school food procurement that would provide regulatory flexibility to school food authorities, thereby making it easier for them to procure local and regional food and farm products.
  • Reduces mandatory funding for the Community Food Projects Grant program by $4 million per year, from $9 million to $5 million annually.
  • Does not provide any mandatory funding for or make important policy changes to improve the Food Safety Outreach Program.
  • Does not provide any mandatory funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program program. The 2014 Farm Bill provided the program with $3 million per year in mandatory funding.

The post Draft Senate Farm Bill: Local & Regional Food and Rural Development appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

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