Community Agriculture Alliance: What expiration of 2008 Food and Farm Bill means

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The 2008 Food and Farm Bill expired Sept. 30, and the House adjourned until after the election, leaving the 2012 Food and Farm Bill stuck in Congress and many important agriculture, energy and nutrition programs unfunded. The Senate and the House Agriculture Committees passed versions of a new farm bill. The Senate approved its version of the bill, but the House leadership refused to take up the bill, stalling the process of getting it finished. This affects everyone who eats.

This will hurt farmers and ranchers, especially dairy producers, organic farmers and those participating in conservation programs. It will shut down programs to encourage young farmers, programs to improve and certify organic farming as well as rural development funds that promote farmers markets, community-supported agriculture and cooperatives. It will hurt seniors and children who need food assistance.

Milk producers take a direct hit with the loss of Milk Income Loss Contracts. Dairies are facing considerable challenges with the nationwide drought. It takes a lot of water to make milk and a lot of water to produce feed for dairy cattle. The milk contracts helped dairy producers when domestic milk prices fell below production costs. Without the milk contracts, there’s no safety net for dairy producers facing the highest feed costs in history.

Landowners using conservation measures on their land face the expiration of funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Reserve Program.

The incentives program provides assistance for conservation measures to meet environmental regulations, and funds offset the expense of high-tech manure management equipment. The money is used to support intensive grazing systems, conservation tillage and individualized energy audits. Nearly $1 billion has disappeared from conservation programs.

The Conservation Reserve Program distributes rental payments to landowners who convert land to long-term, resource-conserving covers. This reduces erosion, protecting millions of acres of topsoil and lakes, rivers and streams threatened with sedimentation. More than 6 million acres will rotate out of the Reserve Program this year, and no new sign-ups will be allowed because the farm bill has expired.

In addition, programs for beginning and young farmers now are unfunded. They offered training, education and technical assistance to the shrinking number of young people dedicated to providing our food security. Incentives for sustainable farming and organic farming are gone. Startup funds for farmers markets are gone.

Eight energy programs for developing renewable energy in rural communities are stalled as well as a half-dozen rural development and agricultural research programs. Some $31 million in nutrition programs, supporting school lunches and food banks, is gone. The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which served nearly a million low-income seniors in 2011, is gone.

Congress will return to Washington for a lame-duck session before adjourning in December. The first order of business should be passing the 2012 Food and Farm Bill. Farmers, ranchers, rural Americans and consumers should impress on their representatives how important this is.

Kent Peppler is the president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

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