2018 Farm Bill Supports Sustainable Farming and Local Food Access

After a long deliberation between the Conference Committee leadership, the Farm Bill passed in both chambers of Congress this week and awaits the President’s signature. In a historic vote, the House broke the record for the most number of “yes” votes on a Farm Bill, ever. It seems as though the sweeping wins for Democrats in the November midterms helped bring House Republicans back to the negotiating table and ensured the removal of drastic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which we wrote about here.

Highlights of the 2018 Farm Bill

Strong Support for Local Food Systems
The Ecology Center is pleased that the final Farm Bill closely aligns with the Senate version, including providing permanent funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), a new program that combines the Farmers Market Promotion Program, Local Food Promotion Program, and Value Added Producer Grants. The comprehensive LAMP program will continue to support the small and mid-size farmers who bring their products to market, and increase consumer education and access to local, healthy fruits and vegetables.

Incentives for Healthy Food Access & Equity
The Farm Bill increased funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program, which funds fruit and vegetable incentives at farmers’ markets. The Ecology Center is the state lead for California’s Market Match program, which matches customers’ federal nutrition assistance benefits, like CalFresh and WIC, at farmers’ markets – increasing the food budget for low-income households and benefitting hundreds of small and mid-size California farmers.

Investment in the Next Generation of Farmers
With an ever-aging farmer population and historic inequities still at play in the farm industry, the Ecology Center was pleased to see the inclusion of the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, proposed by the Senate. FOTO is designed to support the development of future generations of farmers through knowledge, skills, and land transfers, and to create economic opportunities for underserved farmers and ranchers. The program received mandatory funding, meaning farmers will receive this important support for years to come.

Mixed Outcomes for the Environment
On the one hand, Congress made a step forward by removing barriers to the adoption of cover crops, which help build soil health and prevent erosion, and also made sweeping advancements for organic agriculture, including increased funding for organics research and for conventional farmers who want to transition to organic.

On the other, the 2018 Farm Bill reduced funding to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) which provides technical assistance and financial incentives to farmers who want to take proactive measures to conserve soil, protect water quality, and build resilience to extreme weather. Given the increasing need to address water conservation and mitigate the impact of climate change, the cuts to conservation programs is a blow to both farmers and the wider communities who will be impacted by environmental degradation.

We are glad that a Farm Bill has finally passed, providing certainty for the next 5 years, and relieved that it is not as bad as it could have been.

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