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At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

So…What’s happening with the farm bill?

October 1, 2012 was quiet – much too quiet, really.  After the hubbub and concern all summer long whether Congress would pass a new Farm Bill before the previous Farm Bill expired at midnight of September 30, when that day actually dawned, Congress had not accomplished this crucial task before it returned home to campaign for reelection.

Some news commentators reassured us that the failure to pass a Farm Bill was no big deal – farmers would still get payments they need to stay farming, and low-income consumers would still get access to SNAP (Food Stamps) benefits.  But that’s based on a narrow understanding of what the Farm Bill does.

Unfortunately, the cause of the hubbub remains just as real as it was known to be all summer.  It turns out that everyone who called their member of Congress asking them to pass a Farm Bill and every news reporter discussing what would happen if Congress failed to do so was justified in their concern.  Because when Congress failed to pass a Farm Bill before the last one expired, it also failed to renew or extend the authorization for a great many programs that foster the most innovative elements of federal farm policy.

What are examples of these orphaned programs?  Programs like the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, which fosters CSAs, farmers’ markets, farmstands and other direct marketing mechanisms between consumers and farmers.  Like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant Program, which funds training and assistance so people wanting to start farming can overcome the obstacles of financing, land access, production and marketing challenges.  Like the Value Added Producer Grant program, which helps farmers innovate and gain and retain more profit from their hard work.  Like programs providing organic farmers with research they need and sharing the costs of organic certification.  Like renewable energy programs, assistance for rural small business owners – all hung out to dry, just like that.  And conservation programs – the backbone of our nation’s agricultural capacity – were defunded or left without spending authority.

So what happens next?  It’s not certain.  Although the best option would still be for Congress to return after the elections and actually pass a Farm Bill, it’s unlikely that, with all the other things they will have to accomplish in the Lame Duck session of Congress, they can go through all of the negotiations and legislative hurdles to complete a bill in that time.  Another option is for Congress to pass an extension that renews authorization for the many important programs that were defunded by Congress’s inaction.  A third and very undesirable option is for Congress to leave these programs in limbo until they return in January and start all over again to create a Farm Bill in 2013.

What can a citizen do?  Let your member of Congress know, during this election season and after, that you want Congress to pass a Farm Bill still this year.  Sign up at MFAI or NSAC  to get the latest information, so that as the situation changes, you know how to make your voice heard. Because we need to hear some noise from the millions of people who want to see beginning farmers helped, new farmers’ markets and CSAs started, organic farmers supported, farmers using conservation practices that protect our nation’s soil and water, new farm businesses started, and prosperity in rural communities.  Now is the wrong time to be quiet.