Why you need to know about Farm Bill 2002

by Jody Aliesan, President, PCC Farmland Fund

This article was originally published in October 2001

Support small farms and land stewardship, not corporate acreage

American farm policy is at a crossroads. Current federal farm programs leave out two-thirds of American farmers and work against land stewardship. But change is on the way.

The next U.S. Farm Bill, now moving through Congress, would turn U.S. agriculture policy in a new direction. Farms account for half the land in the “lower 48” states. How farm owners use their land affects rural communities, public health in general, and the environment at large.

How it is now
Under current programs, two-thirds of all farmers — including vegetable, fruit, and dairy farmers — receive no direct financial farm support. Most government subsidies go to ten percent of farm owners, mostly mega-gribusinesses in ten states making fence-to-fence plantings of a few commodity crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans as part of “futures” speculation in international export markets.

These subsidized farm owners may not be involved in the farming and they may not be individuals; payments go to corporations, government agencies, and other institutions. As a result, most on-the-ground farmers, and many major farming states, get hardly any help at all.

Farmers left out of subsidies may apply for help from existing voluntary conservation programs to reduce manure or pesticide runoff into water sources, for example, or to restore wildlife habitat; but two-thirds of these excluded farmers are turned away for lack of funds.

When global gambling in export futures causes crop surpluses and low prices, effects rip through the agricultural economy, and small farmers lose their livelihood. The false justification that small farms are “inefficient” adds insult to injury.

Farm Bill 2002
Farm Bill 2002 evolved from a decade of grassroots collaboration among environmental, public health and family farming groups as well as concerned individuals. It would:

  • open federal agricultural programs to small, family-owned and organic farms
  • address the corporate concentration and vertical integration that have reduced so many smaller farmers to a condition near indentured servitude
  • reward farmers for the environmental “goods” they provide in the form of conservation practices on working land.

How it could be
Because so much of our land is farmland, farmers can lead the way to what we need: clean air and water, wildlife habitat, “smart growth” instead of sprawl, and slowing climate change and global warming.

Earth-friendly farming methods reduce threats to public health, such as disease from bad handling of animal waste (E.coli), from irresponsibly produced animal feed (BSE), and the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food and water.

Besides rewarding farmers for protecting land and health, Farm Bill 2002 would provide grants for farmers’ markets, where brokerage costs are eliminated and farmers earn more of the retail dollar. Farm Bill 2002 also encourages treeplanting and removes barriers to organic food producers. Support for voluntary conservation could contribute to farm income and ease the burden of regulatory fees and expenses.

If Farm Bill 2002 is passed — and signed by President Bush — it would go a long way to making sure that federal farm programs are fair. Tell your U.S. representatives you support conservation in Farm Bill 2002! See www.house.gov or www.senate.gov for contact info.

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