05.14.13

Leahy: Senate Farm Bill Includes New Dairy Program And Other Features Important To Vermont

. . . Vermont Highlights Of The New Senate Farm Bill

WASHINGTON  – The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday approved a five-year farm bill that includes a new dairy program and other features important to agriculture in Vermont.  The bipartisan vote was 15 to 5, sending the bill to the Senate Floor for debate and votes.

Vermonters again have a front and center seat in the writing of the Farm Bill through the advocacy of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the most senior member of the Agriculture Committee and a former chairman of the panel.

The Senate’s bipartisan bill would accomplish the most far-reaching reform of U.S. agriculture policy in decades, replacing direct payments to commodity growers with risk management tools that kick in when farmers confront weather disasters or market events beyond their control.  By ending subsidies and streamlining and consolidating programs – for instance, by consolidating 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs -- the Senate Farm Bill cuts a total of $23 billion in federal spending, including cuts already made this year under the sequester.  That total is more than double the $10 billion in agriculture program cuts recommended by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.  The new Senate Farm Bill would replace the current Farm Bill that expires Sept. 30.  The House has begun working on its own version of a new Farm Bill.

Leahy said, “This is a good Farm Bill for Vermont.  Agriculture is a pillar of Vermont’s economy and a bright spot in the nation’s economy, and this is a bill to support and advance our thriving agricultural sector.”

Vermont Highlights
Of The Senate’s 2013 Farm Bill

Dairy

  • A new dairy program will replace the current Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) safety net for farmers.  The new approach, endorsed by leading dairy producers in Vermont, creates a federally supported margin insurance program.  Another key element of the new program is a “market stabilization” provision that would discourage over-supply of milk.  LEAHY: “This new safety net approach will help us break the harmful cycle of rollercoastering milk prices, when supply and demand get too far out of sync.”

Conservation

  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – The 2013 Farm Bill funds EQIP – another program authored earlier by Leahy to continue its protection of the lakes and streams of Vermont.  EQIP helps farmers prevent agricultural runoff, such as manure. Lake Champlain has been plagued by blue-green algae blooms, and EQIP helps farmers control the nitrogen and phosphorus runoff which contribute to these blooms.
  • Agricultural Lands Easement (ALE) Program – The 2013 Farm Bill combines the Farmland Protection Program and the Grassland Reserve Program to create the new Agricultural Lands Easement Program.  ALE will operate through state and local partners to offer permanent protection for working agricultural lands. The purpose of the ALE Program includes “the promotion of agricultural viability for future generations” and thanks to the Bennett-Leahy easement amendment that was accepted during the Committee markup will allow greater flexibility for eligible entities to meet the matching requirement of the Agriculture Land Easement Program for agricultural lands of special significance. The Bennet-Leahy amendment will also allow USDA to determine the ratio of agricultural land easements to wetland easements based on interest and need. LEAHY:  “This is a big step forward toward ensuring that beginning farmers and ranchers are able to participate in the program and that the program itself can help keep working farms in business over the long term.”
  • Regional Equity Program – This program, which Leahy initiated in the 2002 Farm Bill, helps bring greater conservation resources to Vermont and other Northeastern States. The 2013 Farm Bill extends this program so Vermont and other smaller states receive a fair distribution of USDA conservation funds.  LEAHY: “By guaranteeing that each state receives a minimum share of program funding, the Regional Equity Program ensures that Vermont will continue to get its fair share of conservation dollars.”
  • Compliance for Crop Insurance – The longstanding “conservation compliance” requirement will be continued by this Farm Bill and will help to protect environmentally sensitive land, including highly erodible cropland, wetlands and vulnerable land that has never been farmed.  With the new Farm Bill discontinuing direct payments -- to which the basic environmental protections, known as “conservation compliance” had been tied -- the bill now extends these basic requirements to all recipients of federal crop insurance. This would not be a new requirement:  Compliance would only attach to crop insurance for commodity producers, and the vast majority of them already fall under conservation compliance because of other USDA benefits they receive. This change will help protect wetlands from being drained and deter tilling on highly erodible soils.  In Vermont, participation in the current dairy support system already requires compliance with conservation programs, which has resulted in significant improvements to Vermont’s water quality and a reduction in environmental damage.  The 2013 Farm Bill will ensure that our nation’s farmland from habitat loss and environmental degradation.

Hunger Safety Net

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- The Senate Farm Bill cuts federal contributions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Leahy supported an unsuccessful amendment to lessen the cuts.  Nonetheless the Senate’s SNAP cuts are far less than those favored by House leaders for their counterpart Farm Bill.  The 2013 Farm Bill contains initiatives to encourage better health, increased access to local foods, improved nutrition for children and seniors, and support for programs that promote self-sufficiency and food security in the nation’s low-income communities.  Specifically these provisions include $100 million in mandatory funding to encourage purchases of fruits and vegetables by SNAP consumers at retail outlets, including farmers’ markets, support for food banks, farmers’ markets, and food hubs; initiatives to help bring healthy food to underserved communities; allowing SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share; and a pilot program to support bringing local food into our schools.

Organics and Local Food (Leahy is the father of the national organic program)

  • Crop Insurance for Organic Products – Organic farmers today are forced to accept lower conventional prices when indemnity payments are made, rather than the higher average price that organic products typically yield. Senator Leahy supports leveling the playing field by allowing for organic price elections when indemnity payments are made by crop insurance companies. This will ensure that all farmers, including organic farmers, are compensated fairly for their losses.
  • Organic Certification Cost-Share Program The 2013 Farm Bill includes mandatory funding for the highly effective organic certification cost-share program.  Leahy helped defeat attempts to eliminate this program, which provides organic producers with 75 percent of, or a maximum of $750, toward the cost of their organic certification.  LEAHY:  “Organic food is one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural economy.  This program will help keep it thriving.”
  • Enforcement and Integrity – Leahy led an effort to ensure the integrity of the organic seal and the National Organic Program – both, created under his earlier law.  The 2013 Farm Bill also includes mandatory funding for a technology upgrade that will modernize the National Organic Program’s organic database technology systems.
  • Organic Data Initiatives Program – The 2013 Farm Bill continues the organic data initiatives program at USDA for important national data collection about the organic sector.  The bill also directs the Secretary of Agriculture to collect data on the production and marketing of locally or regionally produced agricultural food products, facilitate interagency collaboration and data sharing on programs related to local and regional food systems, and evaluate the success of current local promotion programs.
  • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program – The 2013 Farm Bill expands this program, which has yielded widespread success and participation throughout Vermont.  With more and more Americans depending on local farmers’ markets to buy healthy and local food – and with Vermont’s Farm to Plate initiative -- funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program is crucial.  LEAHY:  “The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program facilitates improved local food hubs and supports farm-to-plate initiatives like the ones that are thriving in Vermont.”  One success story among many is Vermont Farm-to-School Inc., in Newport.  In 2011, this organization received funds from the program to launch a new mobile farmers’ market.

Rural Communities

  • State Rural Development Councils Leahy wrote provisions to continue the authorization for State Rural Development Councils.  Reauthorization of these effective and efficient councils will allow them to continue their important work of strengthening rural communities in Vermont and across the country.
  • REAP Zones – Leahy again has been the leading champion for renewing the successful Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone initiative that has helped create jobs and economic opportunity in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.  REAP Zones set up collaborative and citizen-led efforts to enhance economic development.  Through Leahy’s efforts, the Senate Farm Bill will continue the REAP Zone program.
  • Rural Broadband Deployment -- The 2013 Farm Bill reauthorizes the Rural Utilities Service broadband loan program and creates a new broadband grant program that targets un-served and underserved regions.  In the past, these low-interest loans have helped telecommunications companies, such as Topsham Telephone and VTel, to expand broadband to rural communities.  Reauthorization in the 2013 Farm Bill ensures that this work will continue, connecting more Vermont communities.
  • Reauthorization of the Northern Border Regional Commission -- The Northern Border Regional Commission was created in the last Farm Bill through Leahy’s advocacy.  Since being funded for the first time two years ago, Vermont organizations have received more than $500,000 to spur economic development and job growth in Vermont’s six northern-most counties.  The Farm Bill reauthorizes the program for five years and includes administrative improvements that will make the program more effective and efficient.

Other Features

  • Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) -- Leahy continues to press for USDA to better serve Vermont’s organic farmers.  AMA helps producers develop sustainable practices that protect their farmland and ensure that the health of shared water systems is protected.  This program is especially important when major storms, such as Tropical Storm Irene, devastate a landscape, erode soil and spread contaminants into the water system.  AMA will help lessen the toll of natural disasters like Irene.  It is a program that will pay long-term dividends and greatly reduce future mitigation costs.
  • Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) – The 2013 Farm Bill includes Leahy’s “Buy Up” provision that will patch the hole in the safety net for producers that are producing non-insurable crops, often fruits and vegetables.  For these producers, the level of risk protection they are currently provided under NAP only protects them from losses that could put them out of business.  NAP was invaluable to Vermont producers after the devastating flooding of Irene, but it would have been ineffective for less cataclysmic losses.  Leahy’s NAP Buy Up provision will allow the program to continue to offer the catastrophic level of coverage, but will also give producers the opportunity to elect higher coverage levels, for which they would pay a premium based upon the value of their production.
  • Specialty Crop Block Grants – The 2013 Farm Bill includes increased funding for Specialty Crop Block Grants.  This program enhances the competitiveness of specialty groups by promoting local and regional farm and food system specialty crop development within each state.  These grants can be used to enhance state and regional marketing programs, direct to consumer and direct to store marketing, access to specialty crops for low-income consumers, food hubs, and new farmer specialty crop development.
  • ACER Access and Development Program – This new Leahy-led program would provide grant money to support the domestic maple syrup industry through promotion of research and education related to maple syrup production, promotion of natural resources sustainability in the maple syrup industry, market production for maple syrup and maple-sap products, and encouragement of private land owners to initiate or expand maple-sugaring.

 

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