The House agriculture committee released their version of the farm bill last week, which will generate $35 billion in savings by cutting over $16 billion from nutrition programs and more than $6 billion from conservation programs, while increasing crop insurance subsidies and decreasing commodity subsidies for a net savings of over $14 billion.
Despite the savings, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Policy Director Ferd Hoefner said NSAC is overall disappointed with the draft starting point.
"This is an anti-reform bill -- bad for family farmers, rural communities, and the environment. It will need to be reworked very substantially to gain the support of our coalition of farm and rural groups as the process moves forward."
NSAC said the bill isn't up to snuff because of federal crop insurance subsidies. Under the draft bill, they would reach $10 billion per year, without subsidy caps, income limits, or minimal conservation requirements.
Hoefner said the draft bill was fiscally irresponsible. He said loopholes would be left open in the House version for large farms to collect payments, and that a modern bill would help farmers prevent losses in the future, not just pay farmers for one—and this could carry into land stewardship.
NSAC thinks the draft bill limits the tools that farmers have at their disposal to deal with soil and water improvements in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather and production conditions. "By cutting acreage for the Conservation Stewardship Program by a whopping 30 percent, the draft House bill is telling farmers to 'go it alone' if they want to be proactive about smart land management."
And, while the draft bill includes a Sodsaver provision to protect native grasslands, the provision is regional -- not national -- in scope.
Hoefner and the NSAC also have problems with the funding for new and minority farmers, and organic programs.
The draft bill cuts in half the funding for USDA's keystone programs for beginning farmers and minority farmers, and cuts funding for rural economic development by 88% when compared to the average funding levels of the past three farm bills.
"Creating jobs in rural America and ensuring the success of the next generation of farmers are national priorities for American agriculture," said Hoefner, "but the draft House bill punts on funding for these priorities, leaving rural communities and beginning farmers in the lurch."
Among the many programs the draft bill repeals is a program that assists organic farmers with the costs of complying with regulations. "Organic is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture," noted Hoefner.
The Committee is scheduled to markup the draft bill on July 11. Hoefner said NSAC is confident that the key issues they have identified will be addressed through the amendment process.