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The Federal Agriculture Policy Offers Farm Subsidies and Incentives

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By Kristen Davenport | Sep 1, 2006

Learn about the federal agriculture policy and farm subsidies and incentives.

If arguments over farm subsidies and agricultural policy make your eyes glaze over, try thinking this way: The government might be willing to provide farm subsidies and incentives by doing absolutely nothing on your rural land.

That’s right — money for nothing.

Talk about the federal agriculture policy might, at first glance, seem dreadfully dull. Only folks who live in the breadbasket – the central part of America where thousands of acres are pushing up corn and soybeans for Cargill — need worry about the national farm bill, right?

Au contraire. Small farmers and nearly anyone living on rural property should sit up and start thinking. The farm bill isn’t just a fight over farm subsidies. It’s also a fight over dollars for farmer’s markets, conservation, biodiversity, rural planning and nutrition programs.

The current federal farm bill expires in about one year — as soon as the 2007 crops are harvested (you’ve got to love a law whose timetable is based on when watermelon is ripe). But discussion over what the next farm bill should look like already inspired public hearings this summer. Some agriculture groups are eager to make shifts in farm policy that could have far-reaching implications – from big corporate industrial farms down to mom-and-pop 50-tree orchards selling fruit on the roadside.

Here are a few things to watch out for as discussion over the next farm bill heats up in coming months:

Ethanol subsidies. If you’ve thought about growing corn but figure there’s not much market for more high-fructose corn syrup, you might think again. The farm bill could include incentives for returning land to corn due to the nation’s growing energy crisis. Simply put, we need alternatives to Middle Eastern fuel.

Incentives for new farmers. So you’ve thought about getting into farming or ranching, but you can’t figure out how to afford it? The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition will be pushing for initiatives that help new farmers get started. Among proposals: better loans for farmland and equipment, and linking aging farmers with young, eager ones. Only 1 percent of Americans now make their living off farming, and the average age of farmers is pushing 60, says Martha Noble, senior policy associate with the coalition. “We need more young farmers in the business,” she says.

More for farmer’s markets. Watch for promotion of farm-to-table types of plans — money for any program that helps small niche farmers find direct markets for what they produce. For George Naylor, a 58-year-old corn-and-soybean farmer in Iowa, it could make all the difference. “I’ve thought about going to specialty crops, but I can’t be sure of a market — once you plant your field in lettuce, you’re committed for the whole season,” Naylor says. “That can be scary if you’re not sure you can sell it.”

Fair pricing. Many groups are working to shake up the farm subsidies program, which gives $23 billion annually to the nation’s farmers. Kathy Ozer, executive director of the National Family Farm Coalition, says her group is hoping for fundamental change. “Instead of farmers getting most of their income from the government in the form of subsidies, the farmers should be earning a better price from buyers,” she says. In other words, they want the agricultural equivalent of minimum wage – a minimum price paid per bushel of corn, for instance.

Conservation. There are several conservation and environmental programs that could be expanded, or deleted, under the farm bill. Noble says her group is pushing for expansion of those, such as the Conservation Security Program, which pays farmers to use smart environmental methods of agriculture. Other programs would pay landowners to protect endangered plants or wildlife, or to protect wetlands on their property, even if it means letting land go fallow.

For more information, see www.Grit.com/resources.aspx.


As Seen on TV: Get Involved

Educate yourself with a comprehensive look at the farm bill and its history.

The government’s farm bill page
www.usda.gov/farmbill

Visit these Web sites to connect with some organizations that are lobbying for environmental and sustainable farming issues in the 2007 farm bill.

Center for Rural Affairs
www.cfra.org

Community Food Security Coalition
www.foodsecurity.org

Environmental Working Group
www.ewg.org

Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy
www.iatp.org

Land Stewardship Project
www.landstewardshipproject.org

National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
www.sustainableagriculture.net

National Catholic Rural Life Conference
www.ncrlc.com

National Family Farm Coalition
www.nffc.net/who/fffa.html

Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
www.msawg.org

The Rural Advancement Foundation International
www.rafiusa.org

Western Organization of Resource Councils
www.worc.org

Tell your lawmakers what you would like to see in the next farm bill.

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
www.agriculture.senate.gov

Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) chair

Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) ranking member

House Agriculture Committee
www.agriculture.house.gov

Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) chair

Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota.) ranking member

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