The Farm Bill and You

Article by Leigh Presley, agriculture educator, Kenosha and Racine Counties
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

One item of legislation we’re not hearing much about in popular media lately is the Farm Bill.  Though it may not seem flashy or exciting at face value, it’s very important.  Simply put, the Farm Bill is the primary source of funding and funding authorization for most federal programs that impact our country’s food & fiber system.  With our current Farm Bill expiring in just over a year, members of the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture are working on their drafts of what the next iteration of this massive piece of omnibus legislation will look like.  Lobbyists and advocacy organizations related to anything farm and food are also at work, trying to ensure that the interests of their stakeholders are represented in the next bill that will impact them for the next 5 years.  Though its passage typically involves a lot of back-and-forth between various committees, the Farm Bill is one thing that most policymakers can get behind, in part due to its far-reaching effects.

As its name implies, the contents of Farm Bill have a huge impact on our nation’s farms, from funding the research that helps farmers stay on the cutting edge of agriculture to the crop insurance programs that provide stability to farmers in the event of low crop prices and crop loss due to natural disasters, such as the flooding our area experienced just a couple months ago.  What’s not evident from its name is the impact the Farm Bill has on the rest of our population.  These are just some examples of the ways in which all of us may somehow touch or benefit from programs in the Farm Bill:

  • Conservation: an environment that provides a steady food supply as well as clean air, water, and wildlife habitat is good for everyone. Conservation programs in the Farm Bill help farmers stay productive while reducing the risks and costs associated with adopting practices that benefit the environment like cover cropping and integrated pest management.
  • Nutrition: the Farm Bill authorizes programs that help low income families, including children and seniors, access healthy food. An additional element of these nutrition programs provides healthy-eating education to food benefit recipients.  Recent Farm Bill provisions enable nutrition program dollars to be spent at farmers markets, which is good for both farmers and local economies.
  • Organic food: as consumer demand for organic food increases, Farm Bill programs are helping producers make the transition to organic by funding research and cost-share assistance to help farmers achieve organic certification.
  • Food safety: new federal food safety requirements aim to provide a safe food supply to the public, and the Farm Bill includes programs that provide training to help small farmers meet these requirements.
  • Veterans: a career in agriculture provides veterans with another opportunity to give back to the public. Several Farm Bill programs offer preference and additional training to veterans interested in becoming farmers.
  • Farmers markets and local food: competitive grant programs in the Farm Bill offer farmers markets and other organizations support in creating, expanding, and improving strategies for getting more local food into the hands of consumers. An example of these programs on the ground in Wisconsin is the development of the new farmfreshatlas.org website, which was made possible through the Local Food Promotion Program that was authorized in last the Farm Bill.

Find out more about impacts of the Farm Bill at www.usda.gov/media/blog/archive/tag/farm-bill and if you’re curious, stay tuned to the bill’s progression in the coming months.