The Farm Bill
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Farm Bill: What it is & Why it Matters to All of Us
Wednesday, May 31st, 12:00-1:00 PM
Join MRCC and our Farm Bill experts to talk through not only what all is included in the Farm Bill, but also ways we can take action now to make our priorities and values known. As you’ll see, the Farm Bill touches a LOT– from farming and ag policy to conservation and hunger relief programs. Learn what’s at stake for you and get involved! RSVP here
Farm Bill: Factory Farms, Conservation & Competition
Wednesday, June 7th 12:00-1:00 PM
Learn how the Farm Bill plays a critical role in what farming looks like and what changes we are pushing for to support independent family farm operations that contribute to healthy environments instead of subsidizing factory farms with our tax dollars. RSVP here
The Farm Bill
Farm Bills offer a critical opportunity to create agricultural policy that is good for the land, people, rural communities, and our food and farming system, and the 2023 Farm Bill is just such an opportunity. Conversely, bad, pro-corporate written Farm Bills are one of the main drivers of corporate control, consolidation and concentration and have fueled the corporate extraction of wealth and resources from all of our communities. Since the 1970s, Farm Bill policies have rewarded or encouraged big farms to get bigger, while under-serving small and midsize farms, diversified operations, and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.
That’s why the 2023 Farm Bill has to set a different course–one of economic viability and vitality and sustainability for farm and rural communities, food security for all Americans, decentralized processing, conservation and environmental protection, climate change mitigation, and workers’ rights (just to name a few). In short, we need a Farm Bill written for and by the people, not a Farm Bill written for and by corporations.
MRCC is demanding that the next Farm Bill include bold solutions to address the extreme consolidation in the food system and ensure that public money supports programs that have a track record of success, not prop up corporate-controlled agriculture and food production, including concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, factory farms). The next Farm Bill must ensure competitive markets that provide a fair price to farmers and a fair wage for workers. It must provide an adequate nutrition safety net for everyone who needs assistance, and address historic discrimination in the design of and access to farm programs.
Also of note: One thing that we have seen over our work on past Farm Bills is the use of SNAP as a “bargaining chip” and as a way for corporate agriculture to convince Congress to pass bad farm and agriculture policy. We should not have to decide between SNAP and making necessary changes to other farm, commodity and food policies within the Farm Bill. Instead, we should create a robust SNAP safety net for people in need (both urban and rural), and make the needed meaningful changes to our farm and ag policies for the betterment of both rural and urban people, our economies and environment and family farms.
What is the Farm Bill?
The Farm Bill, which is reauthorized approximately every five years, has a significant impact on what’s grown in our country (and around the world), how it’s grown and who grows it. The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2023.
The first Farm Bill was drafted in 1933, in the wake of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, to address the needs of America’s farmers at a time when hunger and poverty were widespread in the country.
Federal Farm Bills establish policies and government support for a wide range of U.S. agricultural and food priorities and determine how tens of billions of dollars are spent. The Farm Bill greatly influences what and how major commodities are grown and addresses other issues, including nutrition and crop insurance, conservation, credit, international trade, rural development, agricultural research, local food systems, beginning farmers, racial equity, research, forestry, and more.
The Farm Bill also has lasting implications for farm families, rural communities and economies, our water, air, and soil, climate, and racial equity.
The 2018 Farm Bill had 12 titles that each covered a different set of programs. Historically, most Farm Bill spending (three-quarters in the 2018 bill) goes to the Nutrition Title, funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, food stamps), which assists more than 40 million low-income people in the U.S. to afford food. The remaining fourth of the Farm Bill dictates the policies that underlie the growing of our food and commodities, which has a dramatic effect on SNAP.
Stop Subsidizing Factory Farms
The next Farm Bill should stop subsidizing factory farm manure management, including the false solution of manure digesters. Investing in manure biogas locks in more years of factory farms, gas pipelines and gas-burning energy systems, and directs conservation dollars to corporations and their factory farms, while independent family farms are shut out of these popular programs.
- No funding for manure biogas in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
- No Funding for CAFO manure management within USDA conservation programs, specifically EQIP.
- Do not open up the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts for CAFOs.
- Stop USDA backed Guaranteed Loans for the building of new CAFOs.
Break Up Meatpacking Giants
Agriculture suffers from extreme levels of consolidation, with just a handful of massive companies controlling each sector of production. In livestock markets, JBS, Tyson, Cargill and Mafrig control upwards of 85 percent of beef production. JBS (Pilgrim’s Pride), Tyson Foods, Wayne/Sanderson & Purdue control nearly 60 percent of the poultry market. And JBS, Smithfield, Tyson & Hormel control nearly 70 percent of the pork market. JBS and Marfrig are Brazilian corporations and Smithfield is a Chinese corporation. In the seed market, the Big 6 (Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Dow, Bayer, and BASF) have consolidated into the Big 4 dominated by Bayer/Monsanto, Corteva, Syngenta/ChemChina and BASF. These four firms control more than 60 percent of global proprietary seed sales. Economists define these levels of concentration in markets as “highly concentrated”. For capitalism to work for all Americans, our markets must have meaningful, robust competition.
- Pass a moratorium on new mergers of large agriculture and food retailers.
- Review past anticompetitive mergers and give the DOJ and FTC tools to reject deals and break up monopolies
Restore Competition in Livestock and Poultry Markets
The next Farm Bill should include a livestock title that corrects the damage done by extreme consolidation.
- Pass and enforce mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef, pork, and dairy.
- Create a meat and poultry special investigator at USDA, which would improve USDA’s ability to enforce existing regulations and promote competition in livestock and poultry markets.
- Require meatpackers to increase cash market purchases to address the lack of cash market opportunities faced by producers.
- Ban packer ownership of livestock and captive supply arrangements, such as alternative marketing agreements (AMAs), which give corporate meatpackers too much control over the market and drive down the price paid to family farmers and independent feedlots.
- Support USDA rules to improve enforcement of Packers and Stockyards Act, which was established in 1921 “to assure fair competition and fair trade practices, to safeguard farmers and ranchers…to protect consumers…and to protect members of the livestock, meat, and poultry industries from unfair, deceptive, unjustly discriminatory and monopolistic practices.”
Modernized Grain Reserves
The next Farm Bill should reduce volatility, tamp down overproduction and provide a stable, fair price for producers through commodity price floors, loan rates, grain reserves and set aside programs. This would help ensure family farm grain producers get paid a fair price from the market and stop overproduction of grains that intentionally provides cheap, subsidized feed to corporate factory farms.
Prioritize Independent Processing
The next Farm Bill should continue the investments made by the USDA in small meat and poultry processing infrastructure. But this investment in new plants will be wasted without additional efforts to level the playing field by enforcing competition rules and creating new market opportunities for independent producers through government procurement.
- Prioritize pasture-based production in USDA conservation programs.
- Support livestock and poultry operations’ transition out of CAFO production.
- Invest in small and medium-sized meat, poultry and dairy.
- Use federal procurement dollars to support markets for independent meat and poultry production.
Reform Crop Insurance
Crop insurance is a taxpayer-subsidized safety net that drives farmers’ land use and cropping decisions and, under the current system, perpetuates consolidation in the agriculture sector. Over the past 15 to 20 years, federally subsidized crop insurance has artificially reduced risk, enabling the largest operations to expand their acreage (and putting the financial burden on taxpayers), which increases land access challenges for small and medium-sized independent family farms. Federally subsidized crop insurance is vital to protect family farm grain producers from disasters; however, there should be common-sense limits on crop insurance premium subsidies for the largest operations.