The “Farm Bill,” as the omnibus package of federal farm and food legislation is known, represents billions of dollars in government expenditures that set the farm, food, and rural policy goals and priorities for the United States. Congress passed the most recent version of the farm bill – the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (HR 2419; Public Law 110-234) – on May 22, 2008, authorizing nearly $300 billion in direct, mandatory spending over the next five years, approximately two-thirds of which supports the food stamp and associated nutrition programs. The bill continues, with small modifications, the long history of agricultural commodity programs (food and feed grains, oilseeds, and cotton), while also providing increases in mandatory spending for conservation, renewable energy, fruit and vegetable production, and organic farming. Very modest funding is also provided for research and rural development.
Despite the farm bill’s impressive price-tag, there is ample evidence that US farm policy has not achieved its stated goals of fostering a family farm system of agriculture, ensuring that farmers receive a fair return in an unstable market, and conserving natural resources. This failure is apparent across America’s agricultural landscape. The number of independent family farmers on the land has plummeted, as small farms and ranches have been forced out by high land prices. Obstacles are preventing the next generation from farming, with farmers over the age of 65 outnumbering those below the age of 35 by more than two to one. Agriculture is the leading source of pollution in the nation’s rivers and lakes, and the US is losing soil ten times faster than the natural replenishment rate, costing the nation billions of dollars each year in productivity loss. These failures threaten the very future of farming, rural communities, watersheds, and our fundamental ability to feed ourselves.
But these problems and trends are not inevitable. They are the direct result of policy choices that have encouraged concentration, short-term corporate profit, and production at any cost over long-term sustainability and health. Re-shaping policies so that they serve the needs of family farms, rural communities, and the environment is critical to rebalancing power and restoring the capacity of our agricultural system for self-renewal.
Quoted from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s “Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill.”
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