The compromise farm bill secures several victories for conservation, beginning farmers, and rural communities, while failing to cap payments to the largest farms or secure stable long-term funding for working lands conservation.
We are pleased that Congress maintained the Conservation Stewardship Program in the final bill, and included policy changes to strengthen the program. Changes include increased support for cover crops, resource-conserving crop rotations, and advanced grazing management.
We are disappointed that Congress did not fix provisions that drive farm consolidation and funnel taxpayer dollars to the largest operations. The existing payment limitation of $125,000 can now be multiplied not only via spouse and immediate family members, but now by nephews, nieces, and first cousins. This will effectively allow mega farms to continue to collect unlimited payments and perpetuate misuse of taxpayer dollars.
Several valuable programs for beginning, socially-disadvantaged and veteran farmers; value-added agriculture; and local foods are combined into two new programs that will permanently preserve their functions: the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program, and the Local Agricultural Marketing Program.
In addition, Congress increased funding for the Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program to $50 million. This program does important work to facilitate beginning, socially-disadvantaged, and veteran farmers to access land. We appreciate these investments in beginning farmers and rural communities.
Another program that stimulates rural small businesses development, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, was reauthorized but, unfortunately, not funded. This program’s support for loan funding and technical assistance to rural entrepreneurs will not continue unless Congress acts separately to restore its funding, which we encourage them to do.
In the next five years, Congress has a responsibility to keep funding strong for conservation and rural microenterprise development, and boldly address policies and incentives that reward only the largest farms and drive farm consolidation.
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.