Yesterday, the Center for Rural Affairs transmitted a letter urging members of the House-Senate Conference Committee working on a final Farm Bill to address the priorities necessary to create a better future for all of rural America.
“First and foremost, the final Farm Bill must include real reform, for both farm programs and crop insurance premium subsidies. And it must invest in a future for rural America with thriving family farms and ranches and vibrant rural communities.” Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs.
According to Bruckner, there are important provisions included in one or both bills that provide much-needed reform to farm programs, ensuring that they serve the needs and interests of family-scale farmers and ranchers. Historic payment limits and “actively engaged in farming” reforms were adopted in both House and Senate with substantial bipartisan support.
“The Senate and House bills cap farm payments at $250,000 and tighten loopholes that have allowed some non-farmers to game the system and evade payment limits. These provisions are nearly identical in the two bills and they should remain in the final Farm Bill without further change or negotiation.” added Bruckner.
The Center for Rural Affairs letter also urges Conference Committee members to accept the Senate’s modest reduction in crop insurance premium subsidies for millionaires; include the Senate’s Sodsaver provision that protects prime grasslands and native prairie nationwide; and, reject the House provision to obliterate the farmer and rancher protections provided by the Packers and Stockyards Act.
“Moreover, we must all remember that the Farm Bill is the vehicle by which Congress makes crucial investments in the economy of small town and rural America,” continued Bruckner. “The final Farm Bill should invest in our small towns, rural mainstreet businesses, and entrepreneurial farmers and ranchers.”
Bruckner went on to explain that real federal investment in helping small towns and rural entrepreneurs has fallen by half over the last decade, despite the fact that there is broad support for such investment. Nearly nine in ten rural Americans say the rural, small town way of life is worth fighting for, but seven in ten worry that it’s dying, according to a poll of rural voters in over 20 other Midwestern, Great Plains and Southeastern states [http://files.cfra.org/pdf/Poll-Rural-Voters-Rural-Policy.pdf].
To address that deficiency, the Center for Rural Affairs letter calls for investments that included:
- Invest in small towns, rural mainstreet businesses, and entrepreneurial farmers and ranchers
- Direct farm bill funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant program at its historic level of $20 million per year;
- Increase direct farm bill funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program to $10 million per year.
- Sustain direct farm bill funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at no less than $20 million per year, with an ongoing set-aside for socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and veteran farmers, and without diverting away any funds to unrelated programs;
- Provide at least $50 million or preferably full 5-year direct farm bill funding for the Conservation Reserve Program - Transition Incentives Program to help new producers gain access to farm and ranch land while retaining conservation values;
- Hold additional conservation program cuts to no more than the overall level in the Senate bill, and keep cuts to ten percent or less overall for each working lands conservation program - Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP);
- Include the Senate’s level of direct farm bill funding for the Rural Energy for America Program and support for a broad portfolio of on-farm renewable energy projects.