COLUMBUS — Agricultural decision makers would miss an opportunity if the 2018 Farm Bill doesn’t continue support for local and organic foods, according to Amalie Lipstreau. She adds that interest in local food systems and organics has grown exponentially since the 2014 Farm Bill.
Lipstreau is the Policy Program Coordinator of Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), and says that this “organic bright spot” has been growing by the double digits for more than 10 years.
“In Ohio, we are glad to have [Sen. Sherrod] Brown who sponsors the local farm act on the farm side,” said Lipstreu. She highlighted the Senate Bill 1947 and House Resolution 3941, both which she says would continue some really important programs and investments, including farmers market, Value Added Producer Grants and the Foodlink program.
She says that the continued investment will create more jobs in both the local and regional food processing sector. This will help farmers be more profitable in the long term for organic and local foods.
In addition to the organic and local food movement, Lipstreu emphasized the importance of expanding access to crop insurance for beginning farmers. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown also touched on this topic.
“It’s important for farmers to have a safety net,” said Sen. Brown, member of the Senate’s Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. “Farmers don’t want to plant in the program, but plant in the market.” He says that updating the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) bill should be significant to this.
In January 2018, the Crop Insurance Modernization Act was introduced and will aim to create new plans to further expand access and advance land conservation.
“Crop insurance is an important aspect of farm safety net and can better support beginning farmers,” said Lipstreu. She added that it can also augment incentives for land conservation.
Lipstreu added the point of ensuring that “we are using tax dollars wisely and thinking about those conservation practices that can produce long-term stewardship and minimize risk.”
“We’re incentivizing cover crops because our public agencies and wider farming community are seeing how important cover crops are for building soil fertility and soil tilt and reducing runoff in Ohio,” said Lipstreu.
She says that several other marker bills have been introduced, such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2017, aimed to provide more support for the next generation of farmers. A marker bill is legislative bill that is used to introduce specific measures or issues into a larger legislative debate.
In an interview with Rural Life Today, Sen. Brown says that he is hearing a lot about the importance of risk management programs. He is currently working to update ARC, which he helped write five years ago. He also projects the Farm Bill will be ready by late spring of this year.
Since the last Farm Bill in 2014, farmers are facing weakened commodity prices and extreme weather. With the natural disasters impacting farmers, there is a big push for natural disaster relief, according to Ben Brown, Program Manager for the Ohio State Farm Management Program in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics.
“Dairy and cotton are going to drive this farm bill,” said Brown. He says that these two programs are high priorities if the natural disaster relief doesn’t pass with the provision for agriculture included.
Brown continued, “My estimates show that a mandatory update of base acres could shrink the cost of the commodity programs by about 440 million annually to help cover the cost of a new dairy and cotton program.”
“Dairy has been a separate set of problems,” said Sen. Brown. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is important, he says, and recently did some updates there “that should matter to dairy.”
Currently, commodity payments are based on historical base acres. Brown says that when Congress passes a new farm bill (around every five years), farmers have the option to update their base acres for a new four-year period — but it’s not required. The first established base acres started in 1992 – 1996.
The dairy program needs reform, says Jack Irvin, Senior Director of National and State Policy, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. “The dairy program is not effective and hasn’t been successful in Ohio,” said Irvin. He also agrees that crop insurance and conservation programs will be big discussion points in the farm bill.
“One of the things to keep in mind is that ag in general tends to be a lot less partisan than other issues and is a more regional issue,” said Irvin. The current farm bill is scheduled to expire at the end of September 2018.
In the 2018 Farm Bill, Lipstreu suggests looking at the structure of easement programs to ensure they remain affordable for the next generations. An agricultural easement is a voluntary, permanent, legally binding restriction that limits the use of the land to predominantly agriculture activity.
She explains the “overwhelming demand of people who would like to permanently protect their land and many farmers are donating their easement value to make sure of this.” Close to 100 million acres of farmland is expected to change hands by the time the 2018 Farm Bill will be implemented, according to Lipstreu.
Setting the rules of the game
Sen. Brown says that completing the 2018 Farm Bill before “the crops come out of the ground” would benefit farmers as they make decisions for the next year.
“Farmers are already thinking about next year during November,” said OSU’s Brown. “If we get to the point of not having one by that time this year, then they are making decision without knowing the rules of the game.”
Brown projects there won’t be much money spent on research, although he says people are talking about it. “This is the most I have ever seen people talk about research.”
Brown also showed some concern for the farm bill getting bumped out by other pressing matters this year. He emphasized the effort the House and Senate put into the tax bill. Other efforts will go to a bi-partisan infrastructure bill, welfare reform and emigration reform.
The 2014 Farm Bill covered titles (sections), including: Commodities; conservation; trade; nutrition; credit; rural development; research, extension, and related matters; forestry; energy; specialty crops and horticulture; crop insurance; and miscellaneous.
For updated information on the 2018 Farm Bill, visit: www.agriculture.house.gov/farmbill