Last week at the Farm to Institution Summit in Leominster Mass there was a lot of talk about the Farm Bill. It’s a complicated piece of legislation so we are doing our best to educate ourselves and our community about the impacts it will have on our food systems.
Here is a graph of the 2014 farm bill spending (by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition).
The 1% piece of the pie is dedicated to the development of organic, new farmers, farmers markets, food insecurity programs, value added products and rural communities.
The 80% dedicated to nutrition mostly refers for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A major debate that came up in the passing of the 2014 bill was whether to split the bill into two–nutrition and anti-hunger programs and farm programs. There are many sides to both options and this debate will likely rise again in 2018.
Some who support a two-bill approach cite the cost of SNAP as their primary reason. Others oppose major features of the program outright, while still others express offense at debate over farm programs being overrun by discussions of food and nutrition policy.
Critics of splitting the Nutrition Title from the farm bill argue that the comprehensive nature of the bill provides several important advantages over having a series of individual bills for each issue area. The main advantages of a comprehensive farm bill include a predictable opportunity for more comprehensive treatment of food and agricultural issues and plenty of logrolling and vote trading opportunities between urban and rural policymakers who may not otherwise have many reasons to work together.
A not-so-hidden secret to this contentious debate is the political reality that a two-bill approach would have major repercussions for the farm part of the farm bill, especially commodity and crop insurance subsidies. Absent liberal and moderate urban and suburban votes to protect SNAP by also voting for commodity and crop insurance subsidies, it would difficult if not impossible to continue political support for the farm subsidies. By the same token, support for improving food stamp program benefits, as occurred for instance in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills, would also be more difficult to achieve politically were SNAP divorced from farm programs.