2018 Farm Bill: What’s new for agricultural policy?

The 2018 Farm Bill that was recently signed into law allocates billions of dollars to American farmers, bolsters farmers markets, and rejects stricter limits on food stamps. Here are some of the most noteworthy aspects of the new farm bill:

  • Increases funding for agricultural easements. The new bill secured an additional $2 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which compensates landowners for committing to keep their land in agriculture. Those funds will help save land that is essential to both the food supply and environmental health.

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  • Increases funding for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. The new farm bill will provide permanent mandatory funding for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program. FOTO will combine two of USDA’s flagship training and technical assistance programs for underserved producers – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (aka “Section 2501”). $435 million in mandatory funding will be provided for FOTO over the next ten years.

 

  • Creates and funds Local Agricultural Market Program. The new bill creates the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) and provides the program with $50 million per year in mandatory, permanent funds. LAMP combines the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), and Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program to provide baseline funding for the core priorities of each. LAMP also includes a new regional public private partnership provision that uses federal resources to leverage private investment and encourage “foodshed” level approaches to developing regional food economies.

 

  • Increases funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program. The 2018 farm bill reauthorizes the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) program, now called the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentives Program, and provides $250 million for this program over 5 years. FINI funds the Fresh Bucks program administered by the City of Seattle. This program also includes a produce prescription program, based on the Senate-passed farm bill’s “Harvesting Health Pilots Program” (part of the Local FARMS Act). The produce prescription program is provided up to 10 percent of the funds made available through FINI.

 

  • Removes barriers to farmers markets. The USDA will now allow farmers markets to operate an individual EBT (electronic benefits transfer) device for accepting SNAP benefits at more than one location. This change resolves a long standing barrier to operating efficient and cost-effective SNAP EBT systems at markets, a problem farmers and food advocates have been trying to address for years.

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  • Strengthens food access through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The new Farm Bill includes revisions to SNAP, although they will not shrink individual benefits or restrict families’ food stamp benefits. Some new changes include preventing individuals from receiving food stamp benefits in multiple states and eliminating the awards program that gave states up to $48 million a year in federal funding for high performances related to program access and payment accuracy. The projected savings from these changes will be invested back into food banks and other nutrition assistance programs.
  • “The negotiators appear to have achieved a bipartisan compromise that maintains and modestly strengthens SNAP, ensuring that millions of struggling Americans will continue to be able to count on SNAP to help them put food on the table,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in an interview with the Washington Post.

 

  • Increases investments in organic farming. The 2018 Farm Bill includes a number of provisions that will help increase the amount of organic food grown in the U.S., including historic investments in organic research and help for more farmers making the transition to organic. Specifically, the Farm Bill approved by the House and Senate will modify the Department of Agriculture’s existing voluntary agricultural conservation programs to better assist growers who want to switch to organic. These changes will provide transitioning growers with additional technical and financial assistance, as well as make more farmland available to those who want to farm organically.
  • In addition, the bill will provide increased funding for USDA’s organic certification cost-share program. Also, nearly $400 million in permanent funding will be provided for organic research and extension programs over the next decade to ensure that farmers transitioning to organic have greater access to high-yielding organic seeds as well as the resources necessary to address weed, pest and soil health challenges.
  • These changes, along with increased scrutiny of organic imports, will better position American farmers and ranchers to meet the growing demand for organic food here at home – a win-win-win for organic businesses, consumers and the environment.

 

  • Increases funding for urban agriculture. The new bill creates a new “Urban, Indoor, and Other Emerging Agricultural Production Research, Education and Extension Initiative” competitive grants program with $10 million in mandatory funding in the form of a lump sum to be available until expended.

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  • Strengthens efforts to reduce food waste. The USDA will now create a new “Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production” with a 15-member advisory committee and competitive grants authority. The new office is also instructed to create a 10-pilot Urban and Suburban County Committee as well as a community compost and reducing food waste pilot. The bill provides the authority for Congress to appropriate up to $25 million per year for these efforts.

 

All images taken by King County Department of Natural Resources & Parks staff.

Full text and summaries of the new farm bill are available here.

 

Additional articles discussing changes and impacts of the bill are available at:

2018 Farm Bill Drilldown: Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

2018 Farm Bill Drilldown: Local/Regional Food Systems, Rural Development


To read more about organic farming in the new farm bill, visit:

Organic Farmers Association Statement on Farm Bill

2018 Farm Bill Drilldown: Organic Agriculture

https://www.ewg.org/agmag/2018/12/2018-farm-bill-big-win-organic-food

https://www.agweb.com/article/organic-production-boasts-big-wins-in-farm-bill/


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