WHAT DOES THE FARM BILL MEAN?
In February, the US Congress passed the Farm Bill in the amount of $958.6 Billion. This money will be spent in the next ten years. Its official title is the Agriculture Act of 2014. US farmers make up less than 2 per cent of the population. Why do they receive so much money?
According to the Wisconsin Farmers Union, this legislation is really about food and nutrition. Seventy per-cent of the funds will support SNAP, WIC and the U.S. school lunch program. SNAP is the federal food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. WIC is the public health program: Women, Infants and Children.
Thirty per cent is used for farm programs and subsidies. Here is the breakdown:
$756.4 billion for nutrition (SNAP, WIC and school lunches)
$89.8 billion for crop insurance which provides a safety net for crop, dairy, and livestock disaster relief.
$57.6 Billion for conservation
$44.5 Billion for commodities including trade, research, energy and forestry.
According to the Audubon magazine (May-June 2014), this Agriculture Act is a big win for the birds and for pro-conservation measures. This Act will protect millions of acres of wetlands and reduce erosion. In the past ten years, the wetlands in the Great Plains have been drained at an alarming rate. This has taken away the habitat of migratory birds. (There was a 50 percent loss in the Dakotas alone.)
The Act is not perfect, but it is a win for wildlife. Less than 5 percent of our native grasslands are left. The growing demand for corn ethanol caused farmers to plant on never-before-plowed prairie. The 2005 Energy Policy Act paid farmers to do this. Now the farm subsidy for crops on native grasslands is reduced and farmers will take the risk.
Another win is for the Wetlands Reserve Program (which has restored nearly three million acres). It now has permanent funding which should cover restoration of 60,000 acres per year.
The Agricultural Act increases funds for organic farming as well as on-farm energy conservation and farmers’ markets by more than 50 percent, to nearly $3 billion over the next decade. This should reduce runoff and pesticide use and help birds survive. It will also bring more local foods to the consumer.
The Agricultural Act is not perfect. It took three years to hammer out the details. Food stamps were reduced, but so were the commodities (by eleven per cent). The increased funds for environmental protection came as a result of lobbying. If you volunteer time or donate money to conservation groups, realize that you have made a difference. You have helped Planet Earth and our democracy. Democracy only works when the people are in control.