The farm bill has major implications for sustainable and organic farmers, and now is the time to defend, strengthen and establish key programs and policies that benefit organic producers, said Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), a non-partisan organization that advocates for federal policy reform for the sustainability of food systems, natural resources and rural communities. Charney presented updates on the developing 2018 Farm Bill as well as tips for farmers and producers to impact policy during the 2018 Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farming Conference on February 23 in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
The current farm bill, which passed in 2014, expires on September 30, 2018. Congress has only months left to authorize the 2018 Farm Bill. While the House and Senate have held field and committee hearing and the Agriculture Committee has a farm bill mark-up pending, Charney noted that it’s been a busy year in Congress, plus it’s an election year in politics, so the chances of passing a farm bill on time are less and less in the next couple of months.
What’s at stake for organic and sustainable farming systems?
Programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which offers training and assistance to new and the next generation of farmers, will expire on September 30. These are a few of the other programs that will be stranded if the current bill expires:
- Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers
- Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion
- Value-Added Producer Grants
- Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives
- Organic Agriculture Research and Education
- National Organic Cost-share Certification
NSAC’s campaign for the 2018 Farm Bill aims to advance programs and policies that support the next generation of American farmers and ranchers; offers better options for specialty and organic producers; farm conservation and stewardship; local and regional food systems; greater investment and more diversity in the public seed supply; better targeting of subsidies to improve delivery and public benefit; and a fairer and more transparent federal crop insurance program. Charney urged farmers to join the NSAC to ensure the 2018 Farm Bill is a farm bill for the future.
What organic farmers can do
Speak up, says Charney. If you aren’t speaking up for yourself, someone else is speaking for you. Policy sets the rules of the road for just about everything in our food and farm system. Want to see changes? Policy is just one way to get there. Other tips Charney offered to encourage federal policy include:
- Shake hands and meet people. They don’t know the challenges you face on your farm, and won’t, unless you tell them.
- Share news. Invite legislators to your workshops, training, conferences and field days.
- Show up. Attend town halls and listening sessions — informed and engaged people are critical to making change.
- Call your legislators. It does make an impact.
- Share info and action opportunities with others to amplify the message.
Charney says there’s no silver bullet or quick fix in policy advocacy, but there are many opportunities to advance and improve key issues and programs through farm bill advocacy.