Vermont Highlights Of The 2013 Farm Bill As Adopted By The U.S. Senate On June 10, 2013
The 2013 Farm Bill, as passed by the U.S. Senate on June 10, 2013, in a vote of 66 to 27, is a comprehensive agriculture reform bill that saves taxpayers more than $23 billion dollars, supports more than 16 million American jobs, and makes significant strides in conservation and wildlife protection.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the most senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, again has ensured that Vermonters have had a close seat at the table as the Senate bill was being written. “Every Farm Bill is important to Vermont,” he said, “and this Farm Bill advances key Vermont priorities in many important ways.” Here is a summary of many of the Vermont highlights of the Senate-passed Farm Bill:
- The Senate’s Farm Bill includes new dairy provisions to replace the MILC safety net. The new approach, endorsed by major dairy producers in Vermont, creates a federally subsidized margin insurance program. A key element of this new program is a “market stabilization” provision that would discourage over-supply of milk. “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,” said Leahy.
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – The 2013 Farm Bill funds EQIP – another program authored earlier by Senator Leahy – at a sufficient level to allow it to continue to protect 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 provide 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, which was accepted during the Senate Agriculture Committee markup, the program 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. “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,” said Leahy.
- Regional Equity Program – This program, which Senator 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 that Vermont and other small states receive a fair distribution of USDA conservation funds. “By guaranteeing that each state receives a minimum share of program funding, the Regional Equity Program ensures that no state is left out in the cold and that Vermont will continue to get its fair share of conservation dollars,” said Leahy.
- 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 Farm Bill discontinuing direct payments, which the basic environmental protections, known as “conservation compliance” had been tied to, 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, the vast majority of whom 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 help limit habitat loss and environmental degradation.
Hunger Safety Net
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – With so many Americans struggling to put food on the table, nutrition assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and emergency assistance programs have become even more crucial.
- In Vermont, recent surveys show that more than one in five children and nearly one in seven households are food insecure, leaving families relying on federal and state programs such as SNAP (renamed 3SquaresVT in Vermont), WIC, and the federal School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. Enrollment in 3SquaresVT has nearly tripled over the last decade, with 99,000 Vermonters now receiving benefits.
- 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
- Crop Insurance for Organic Products – Much of the $23 billion in savings in the 2013 Farm Bill comes from the elimination of direct payments to commodity producers and the creation of a broad crop insurance program. Today organic farmers 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. This program provides organic producers with 75 percent of, or a maximum of $750, toward the cost of their organic certification. “Organic food is one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural economy. This program will keep it that way,” said Leahy. Senator Leahy helped defeat attempts to eliminate this program, which has had a significant impact on the Nation’s small farmers.
- Enforcement and Integrity – Senator Leahy – the father of the highly successful national organic standards and labeling program – has continued to lead efforts to ensure the integrity of the organic seal and the National Organic Program. 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 American’s depending on their local farmers market to buy healthy and local food and Vermont’s Farm to Plate initiative, funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program is crucial. Senator Leahy said, “The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program results in 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.
- Leahy Gigabit Pilot Amendment – Under legislation authored by Senator Leahy and approved by the Senate on June 10, the Senate-passed Farm Bill would establish a new pilot program within the RUS broadband loan program to fund gigabit projects in rural areas. While it is important that the broadband program focus on truly unserved areas, Leahy believes that it is vital to ensure that investments are also made in networks that will not become obsolete within the next few years. Gigabit Internet is spreading to cities across the country and this pilot will allow USDA to test out investment in gigabit networks in rural areas on a pilot basis before rural America falls further behind.
- State Rural Development Councils – In the 2012 Farm Bill, Senator Leahy offered an amendment to continue the authorization for State Rural Development Councils. The Senate passed the Leahy amendment with bipartisan support and this language was included in the 2013 Farm Bill. 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 – Senator Leahy has fought to continue the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone initiative that has been so successful in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. REAP Zones set up collaborative and citizen-led efforts to enhance economic development. This effort is a vibrant model for building a new rural economy that other rural areas are beginning to emulate.
- Reauthorization of the Northern Border Regional Commission -- The Northern Border Regional Commission was created in the last Farm Bill with the advocacy of Senator Leahy. 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 – Agriculture
- Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) -- Senator Leahy continues to fight hard for USDA to better served Vermont’s organic farmers. AMA helps producers develop sustainable practices that protect their farmland and ensure that the health of our shared water systems is protected. This is the type of 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 Senator 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 Tropical Strom Irene, but it would have been ineffective for less cataclysmic losses. Senator Leahy’s NAP Buy Up provision will allow the program to continue to offer the catastrophic level of coverage, but also give producers the opportunity to elect higher coverage levels, which they would pay a premium for based upon the value of their production.
- Specialty Crop Block Grants – The 2013 Farm Bill includes a healthy increase in 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 program in the 2013 Farm Bill provides 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.
David Carle: 202-224-3693
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