By Grace Empie, MCFE and Policy Intern
Friday February 7, 2014 President Barack Obama visited Michigan State University’s campus to sign into law H.R. 2642, the Agriculture Act of 2014, otherwise known as the ‘Farm Bill’ and CEDAM staff attended the event. The bill will expand opportunities for innovative food systems and programs with an investment of over $1.2 billion in the next five years. Specific areas including conservation and energy, subsidy reform, local and regional food systems, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, organic agriculture, research and education and rural development.
The bill includes a 1%, $800 million cut to SNAP. The savings are generated by making it more difficult for states to give recipients a minimal amount of heating assistance in order to trigger higher food stamps benefits. This cut means about 850,000 households will lose about $90/month in benefits.
Local and regional food systems awards have been expanded including a triple in funding to farmers market and local food promotion programs and community food project budgets doubled. Along with the increased funding two new programs will be implemented. The food insecurity nutrition incentive will provide grants to organizations that promote farmers markers and an increased fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP recipients. Also a new USDA sponsored whole farm diversified risk management insurance that will provide revenue insurance for diversified farms that have in the past been left out of the federal crop insurance system and are focused on local markets.
While funding for local and regional food systems was increased and a new food insecurity nutrition incentive was created, only a small percentage of the budget is focused in rural development. Two new programs were included, the value-added producer grant and the rural microentrepreneur assistance program. The value-added grant will assist farmers in developing new markets for a growing demand of high quality products at a local and regional level. The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program will assist in providing training, technical assistance and microloans to small rural businesses with a budget of $3 million annually.
A large focus has been placed on beginning farmers and ranchers with $100 million geared towards new training programs with a focus on military veterans, but benefits for the socially disadvantaged was greatly reduced. A $10 million reduction to outreach for socially disadvantaged farmers cut their past benefits in half, but expanding again with a new focus on military veteran farmers. A new microloan program through the USDA will connect new farmers to a third party intermediary who will microloans and financial training. Also, a new incentive program will be put in place for retiring landowners to rent or sell their expiring CPR (Conservation Reserve Program) land to new or minority farmers.
There have been many additions and reductions from the last ‘Farm Bill’ that was signed in 2008 a higher focus on local and regional food systems with larger incentives to beginning farmers and those with a larger focus on rural and local farmers markets. A new focus has been placed on military veteran farmers as well as minorities.