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As the Senate version of a farm bill moves to committee review this week, rural advocates are pleased with a provision that would restore the status of Department of Agriculture’s rural development programs and preserve funding for nutrition programs.
“Rural areas need USDA’s attention and investments, and restoring the Undersecretary [of Rural Development] position is a step in the right direction,” said Tara Ritter, senior program associate at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
Last year Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue dropped the position of Undersecretary of Rural Development in favor of an Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural affairs. The agencies in Rural Development support programs like water and sewer facilities, broadband, housing, and small business development.
Besides restoring the undersecretary position, the Senate version of the bill also preserves most of the current conservation and development programs. Unlike the House bill, the legislation does not increase work requirements for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The Senate bill is receiving bipartisan support. The House version of the farm bill died in a floor vote last month. No Democrats supported the House legislation. Thirty Republicans also voted against it.
The restoration of the Undersecretary of Rural Development is more than an administrative move, advocates said.
“Rural Development is one of the most important pieces of the Senate draft,” said Jake Davis, a Missouri farmer and policy director of Family Farm Action. Davis said the bill should not just make a structural change but increase funding for rural development programs.
“We’re happy to see the changes to USDA’s organizational structure, but it’s also important to make sure the agency has a robust budget. The farm bill should be focused on ensuring new opportunities for rural communities. That doesn’t happen without guaranteed funding.”
Davis is joining other farmers and farmer organizations in Washington, DC, this week to urge the Senate to keep improving their draft. The Senate Agriculture Committee will be discussing and amending their draft on Wednesday.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) also welcomed the Senate bill, stating the bill “stands in stark contrast to its companion in the House, which moved out of committee along completely partisan lines and was denounced by many farm and food advocates before it was defeated on the House floor.”
NSAC further stated the organization was pleased that, unlike the House bill, the Senate version did not cut funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food for low income Americans.
Still, NSAC said that many family farm and sustainable agriculture advocates are looking to improve the Senate draft.
“The draft bill scales up investments for farm-to-fork initiatives and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer programs, and makes important policy improvements to crop insurance and conservation programs. It also fails, however, to make meaningful reforms to farm subsidy programs to limit economic and farm concentration, and includes significant cuts to critical working lands conservation programs,” the group stated.
NSAC has created a detailed analysis of the Senate draft, digging deep into following topics:
- Commodity Programs and Crop Insurance
- Socially Disadvantaged and Beginning Farmers
- Rural Development and Local/Regional Food
- Organic Agriculture
- Agricultural Research and Plant Breeding
- Conservation Programs
Dan Waldvogle, a Colorado farmer, is also traveling to D.C. this week to represent the National Young Farmers Coalition and talk about how the farm bill can help to address the drought in his region. “As a beginning farmer from Colorado, I am acutely aware of the extended drought that we are experiencing,” he said. “It can be particularly difficult for beginning farmers to withstand these events.”
“I feel that it is extremely important that the 2018 Farm Bill have a hearty safety net and conservation programs directed toward creating resilience for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. I am thrilled with the opportunity to share my voice with my members of Congress in D.C.”
The Senate is widely expected to move its draft farm bill to the Senate floor from the committee debate this week. If the bill passes the Senate floor, the House of Representatives will face increasing pressure to deliver their version of the bill. The current farm bill expires September 30 without Congressional action.