FFN Lauds Passage of the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012

The U. S. Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (ARFJA – AKA the Farm Bill) on June 21 by a resounding bipartisan vote of 64-35. The passage of the 2012 Farm Bill is a triumph for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

For months, polarized party politics exacerbated the usual interest group wrangling, and a shortened election-year Congressional calendar increased the competition for valuable floor time. With the threat of the current bill’s September 30 expiration and concomitant across-the-board cuts looming on January 1, Senator Stabenow steadfastly insisted that the Farm Bill would get done, and it did.

Fair Food Network thanks Senator Stabenow for championing a new SNAP local fruit and vegetable incentive provision allowing for the expansion of initiatives such as FFN’s Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) to other states. The bill also provides substantial support to other efforts to build the infrastructure for robust local and regional food systems, authorization for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to fund healthy food retail in underserved communities, and significant reforms to farm support programs. The bill cuts more than $23 billion from anticipated spending over the next ten years.

VOA Stabenow and Senate Ag Committee
Senate Agriculture Committee members, led by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, (D-MI), center, praise bipartisan passage of the Farm Bill.

The action now moves to the House, where the Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on its version of the bill during the week of July 9. There will then be three weeks during which the measure could be considered on the House floor before both chambers leave for the month-long August recess (and the campaign trail).

Once the House passes a Farm Bill, a conference committee can be named to sort out the differences between the two versions and send a compromise bill back to the two chambers for passage. With the September 30 deadline looming, it is up to House leadership to make time for a floor vote quickly once the bill is voted out of the House Agriculture Committee.

Senator Stabenow confounded Washington, D.C., pundits by moving this enormous piece of legislation in the current rancorous political climate, and leaders of both parties publicly applauded her efforts and those of the Ranking Member of the Committee Pat Roberts (R-KS) on the floor before the final vote. The pressure is now on House leadership to give their Agriculture Committee Chair and Ranking Member (Reps Lucas [R-OK] and Peterson [DFL-MN]) the opportunity to demonstrate equal organizational skill and bipartisan commitment to passing a Farm Bill in that chamber. Sen. Stabenow and Rep. Lucas have worked well together, and Rep. Lucas has said that he will move a bill this year “come hell or high water.”

ARFJA includes substantial reforms to American agriculture policy. It eliminates the direct payment program (considered the most egregious of the subsidy programs), and shifts the farm safety net to a public-private crop insurance system.  Farmers purchasing crop insurance will be required to use responsible production practices, and producers with high incomes will not receive a full federal contribution to their policy premiums. USDA will work with the industry to develop better insurance for organic and highly diversified farms, and organic farmers will be insured for the higher market price of their products.

In addition to opening land that had been in commodity crop production for the production of healthy foods, ARFJA provides significant new funding to build the supply chain infrastructure necessary to get foods from farm to schools, hospitals, grocery stores, and other markets. The new Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion program is allocated $20 million per year to support direct farm-to-consumer sales and develop food hubs and other supply chain innovations. The Community Food Program will now have $10 million per year to invest in community-led innovations to increase local self-reliance for food. This is double the amount currently allocated under that program. Specialty Crop Block Grant spending to the states will increase to $70 million per year, and a new Farm to School pilot program will allow five states (to be determined) to opt out of the USDA Foods procurement program and purchase school food from local sources.

This Farm Bill moves policy one step closer to fully including public health and local economic development goals into farm program decisions. This is a tangible reflection of the hard work of engaged citizens all over the country who vote every day with their food dollars and are making their voices heard in Congress.