Originally published by National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Growing a more just and sustainable food and farm system through the farm bill, a massive package of legislation that is passed roughly every five years, is among the main priorities of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Congressional negotiators just held their first official public meeting to discuss the nation’s next farm bill, which has a tremendous impact on every part of our food system — from how food is grown to who has access to it. The 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee, which met for the first time on September 5, now has the daunting task before it of trying to finalize a new farm bill before the current one expires on September 30, 2018.
This first meeting sets the stage for what is likely to be a difficult negotiation period. In this post we will provide a brief overview of the major themes discussed by the Committee during its first meeting, as well as an analysis of the issues at play and their potential impact on family farms and sustainable agriculture.
In order to reach a final bill, the Committee must first reconcile the two very different draft farm bills passed by the House and the Senate. While this week’s meeting was the first of the full Conference Committee, the leaders of the Committee — Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Pat Roberts (R-KS), Ranking Member Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Mike Conaway (R-TX), Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) — have been meeting since early August to try and iron out the differences between the two bills. At this week’s meeting, conferees gave brief opening statements and began laying out their positions ahead of what will likely be tense series of debates.
There are approximately 10 working legislative days left in the month during which Committee members must attempt to reconcile the chambers’ vastly different approaches to nutrition policy, working lands conservation, local and regional market development, and commodity program reforms. For a detailed summary of the differences between the House and Senate bills relative to the priorities of the sustainable food and farming community, see NSAC’s 2018 Guide to the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Process.
NSAC is strongly urging members of the Conference Committee to move forward with a final farm bill patterned on the bipartisan Senate bill before the 2014 Farm Bill expires at the end of the month. However, if past is prologue, there is a good chance that the Committee will not be able to bridge the chasm between the two bills by that deadline. If the next farm bill is not finalized on time, numerous “tiny but mighty” farm bill programs that support family farmers and food-producing communities will effectively shut down in terms of new funding and grant opportunities. Without renewed funding either in the next farm bill or in an extension package, these programs will be unable to provide new funding for qualified projects in for fiscal year 2019.
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