Another Way Congress is Screwing Farmers

Written by Sara Mersha of Grassroots International

The Farm Bill presented Congress with an opportunity to change some of the fundamental structures of our food system, by creating a farmer-owned reserve and establishing a price floor that reflects farmers’ true cost of production. It may not surprise many of us to know that Congress did not live up to this responsibility.

When we last wrote about the 2012 Farm Bill in June, over 10,000 of you took action with us. Taking our lead from the demands of the National Family Farm Coalition and other groups advocating for fairness and justice in the Farm Bill, we pushed for inclusion of funding for programs such as the Minority Outreach and Education program, the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and the Emergency Disaster Grants for Farmworkers program. We supported the creation of a farmer-owned reserve and establishing a price floor that reflects farmers’ true cost of production. Most importantly, we asserted the critical need to make sure that rather than allowing such important decisions about our food system to be made in closed-door meetings with big agribusiness interests, Congress must engage in an inclusive, participatory process that listens to and lifts up the voices of those of us who are most impacted by these decisions– the consumers and the small-scale producers who we all depend on.

What went wrong?

First, the Senate held behind-the-scenes meetings in late June to pass its version, including some but not all of the important commodity programs, without even attempting to address pricing and reserves. Then, in mid-July, the House Agriculture Committee approved their version of the Farm Bill, one that NFFC described as disastrous. It not only neglects funding for many of the important commodity programs, but it also cuts more than $16 billion from food stamps (SNAP) even as the need for food stamps increases. The House version also eliminates critical regulatory powers, including the 2008 Farm Bill provision enabling the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to regulate corporate consolidation in the livestock industry (GIPSA Rule). Perhaps most striking, the House version includes riders advanced by Monsanto and other agribusiness giants that would, among other things, severely limit USDA’s ability to assess, monitor and control genetically modified crops, even those not yet approved. These surface at a time when Monsanto and Dow are seeking approval of new crops which contain the chemical found in Agent Orange, 2,4-D.

Neither of these versions has passed. The current Farm Bill expired this October 1, and without a new one in its place, many of the important programs that rural and urban communities depend upon such as the Minority Outreach and Education program will simply cease to exist.

The timing could not be worse with federal departments preparing to make budget cuts across the board, it will be particularly challenging to reinstate programs once they have been eliminated. Kathy Ozer, Executive Director of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), explains, “The White House recently issued a sequestration report that outlines budget cuts taking effect January 1, 2013, masking how deep the real cuts are because some of the most important programs will have already expired before cuts are made.”

Needless to say, it is not a promising picture for the Farm Bill in 2012. However, even with the threats created if Congress fails to act, this period also brings great opportunity. The connections built between organizations working on the Farm Bill are unsurpassed in their breadth and strength; this year’s efforts brought together not just family farmers and national policy groups, but also urban food justice and youth activists in communities across the country. These relationships will carry forward, both to keep fighting for a Farm Bill that is just for communities in the U.S. and around the world, and to take on other fights. Ozer shares, “We have time between October 1 and Congress’ lame duck, post-election session to build the political support for the more than 30 programs that have expired and will need to be reinstated. These are programs such as the Minority Outreach and Education program, conservation programs, and other cost-share programs that expand participation.”

This moment is also ripe for public education and direct action toward truly transformational changes in our food and agriculture systems. While Congress clearly does not recognize the principles and meaning behind food sovereignty, the movement for food sovereignty is growing stronger every day. On a local level, more and more rural towns are adopting resolutions that support the rights of community members to produce and sell their own food, based on a model promoted by our allies at Food for Maine’s Future. Organizing groups in cities from Detroit to San Antonio to the Bay Area in California and more are expanding their efforts for community gardens into a struggle for community access to and control over the land necessary to make urban farming a reality. Farmworkers in Florida are working towards exciting new models of collective farming, so that they can stop being exploited laborers and start creating their own models of production that are healthy for themselves and their communities. And throughout Pennsylvania, cities and towns are passing local Rights of Nature ordinances as part of the global struggle to stop natural gas fracking and defend the Rights of Mother Earth.

Most of these efforts– and many more– are connected to a larger vision and strategy through the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), and all of these examples were inspired or influenced by the struggles of peasants and indigenous peoples across the Global South. Grassroots International is proud to be part of the USFSA, and looks forward to continued efforts to build consciousness and action for food sovereignty in the US, in partnership with the struggles of our partners around the world.


Related Stories:

Food Sovereignty: The Real Prize

The Top 100 Healthiest, Budget-Friendly Foods

Mayor’s Food Stamp Diet: “I’m Tired, and It’s Hard to Focus”



Janet B.
Janet B.3 years ago

Lynn you are on target regarding a major issue. Our Senators and Congressmen for the last generation or so have forgotten that they were elected to FEDERAL government positions and are supposed to make laws and pass legislation benefitting ALL citizens. Instead they spend time adding Amendments to bills which in some instances does not actually pertain to the item in that particular bill to scratch backs of entities who contribute to their campaigns.

Amendments to bills are meant to be used to tweak a bill and insure what is passed is in the very best interest of our country and not for legislators to add trash to bills. When bills come up for renewal such as the Farm Bill, then the trash needs to be removed to help fix our financial debt crisis. The Farm Bill should not contain items for broadband, energy, housing, welfare, etc. and any of those items which might be absolutely needed should be in their own separate bills. Sorry, farmers should not have their needs hindered by petty legislative bickering between farmer needs vs. food stamps.

Lynn C.
Lynn C.3 years ago

I agree with the rest of you, but this makes me pretty irate! The congress - remember what they are suppose to do? - hasn't represented the people of this country for a while now. If we don't get people into the government that will truly do their job, this country is a goner and the government is a farce.

Janet B.
Janet B.3 years ago

The Democrat Senate Farm Bill should NOT be passed with this section still added: SEC. 12211. DEFINITION OF RURAL AREA FOR PURPOSES OF THE HOUSING ACT OF 1949 would increase the pool of recipients and increased rural community population requirement to 35,000. This population level would be a small City not a true rural community. Changing the Census date to 2020 insures those who have already received fair share of benefits over past years and now self-sufficient to continue receiving such benefits. The purpose of rural programs is to help very small struggling communities grow and become self-sufficient, not to become a Welfare System for self-sufficient communities who have already received past benefits wanting more.

This section in the Senate Farm Bill and also in other bills such as House Bill H.R. 273 is Legislative Back Scratching just for the purpose of continuing to feed funding to self sufficient city governments. Given the U.S. current deficit and debt how does increasing the pool of recipients by adding those who have already had their fair share in the past being greedy and wanting more, serve the best interest of true rural communities?

We are 16+ Trillion in debt and it is time to separate the trash from all legislative bills to move forward. A Farm Bill should only be for farmers to insure proper Food Supply for our citizens and insure all farmers have access to proper insurance the same as any other business. Items need to be separated out and

Stella Gamboni
Stella Gamboni3 years ago

Many people believe that corporate farms are the main beneficiaries of government assistance and price controls but the facts are that corporate farms and farms with total annual sales over $250,000 make up less than 10% of all the U.S. farms. That leaves 90% who need the education and assistance programs contained in the farm bill.

Past Member
Past Member 3 years ago

Change will not come from above, in this case Congress(they are pretty much bought and paid for), so every day VOTE with your wallet. We must support local healthy food.

Penny C.
penny C.3 years ago

Buy locally.

OmegaForPrez now
OmegaForPrez now3 years ago

wow, welcome to America. Unless you are a farmer paying the government millions, you can't sell or grow here.

Desiree Ponton
Desiree P.3 years ago

How sad… Thanks for the article. Please keep us all updated.

William Seuffert
bill Seuffert3 years ago

I was a farmer. The government wants to get rid of the family farm. They want only the corporate farm so as to control the food supply. Because who ever controls the food supply controls the world.

John B.
John B.3 years ago

Thanks for providing the article by Ms. Mersha. We desperately need a farm bill passed but I just don't see it happening during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress.