The 2008 Farm Bill was passed recently after Congress overturned President Bush’s veto. The resulting bill is mixed because during the long drawn out process of creating the bill there was a constant struggle between conservation groups and the large ag lobbying power. This bill is very important, because it largely controls how our food system works. It affects all of you a lot more than you probably realize.
As far as the contents of the bill, for organic agriculture, there were many positive programs included. A certification cost share program was strengthened to help farmers pay for the costly organic certification that is required each year. $78 million over four years was doled out for organic research. This is very important, because organic agriculture has previously not received the proper research funding that it deserves based on its share of the market.
Increased funding was also given to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a program that has great potential, and ultimately should be a replacement for the current commodity program. CSP rewards farmers for implementing conservation practices on their farm which is a welcome change to just rewarding farmers for the overproduction of commodities.
The most important issues in the farm bill, in my opinion, were beginning farmer issues. A number of programs were funded to help new farmers, and I hope that they can be effective in getting more people involved in farming. A grants program was funded, as well as programs that provide lower interest rates to beginning farmers. Money was also directed towards outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers. This was also in the form of a grants program that will be used to assist minority farmers.
There were several losses in this bill though, and one of the major ones was the fact that there was very little reform on commodity payment limitations. As a result, megafarms can still receive large subsidy checks from the government. All kinds of loopholes to completely take advantage of this system were left open as well. At a time when the survival of the small to mid-sized farms is very important, this lack of reform is a major blow.
So, the farm bill. Interesting stuff right? You don’t have to humor me, I got pretty bored just writing it. But it is important, I swear.