A Very Bad Farm Bill for Southwest Virginia Farmers

FB Post:  A Very Bad Farm Bill for Southwest Virginia FarmersLike many farmers in southwest Virginia, I know how challenging it can be to earn a good living from farming, while also providing healthy affordable foods to my neighbors and being a good steward of the land.  It takes a lot of trial and error, hard work and even a bit of luck to make these things happen. 

Federal farm policy, mostly in the form of the Farm Bill, can either help with these challenges or make them even more difficult.  The Farm Bill now before Congress does the latter.

Until fairly recently, small farmers have historically gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to national farm policy, which is heavily skewed towards very large and corporate farms, and to a handful of commodity crops.  That’s why I’ve championed changes to the Farm Bill over the past two decades designed to help level the playing field for small to mid-size farmers, for new and minority farmers, and for those attempting to use the best conservation and sustainability practices on their farms.  And indeed, slow but significant improvements have been made to this once-every-five-years federal legislation, including support for farmers markets, for lower income people to be able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, for farm entrepreneurship, for ‘working lands’ conservation that enables farmers to improve their stewardship while they continue to farm, and more.

We’ve seen the fruits of these sensible federal farm policies throughout the 9th District: New markets and marketing opportunities have helped provide alternatives to tobacco farmers;  young people have entered farming, with more education and support available to them; farm entrepreneurs have been able to expand production and improve their marketing; food stamps recipients and others on fixed-incomes are able to purchase healthy foods from their farmer-neighbors; and farmers have been able to fence their cattle out of streams, and adopt other conservation measures through cost sharing programs.

Unfortunately, the draft Farm Bill now being debated in Congress reverses much of the progress we’ve been making, once again highlighting Congressional Republicans’ undying preference for big corporations over family farms and small businesses.  The current draft reduces funding for many of the local food and entrepreneurship programs that have helped build markets and diversify farm enterprises; it also cuts funding for rural microenterprise, for new and beginning farmers and for farm-based energy efficiency and renewable energy.  It dramatically reduces funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program and others that are so popular among farmers; and it makes major cuts to food stamps, something that so many people in the 9th utilize during periods of unemployment or financial stress.  Worst of all, cuts to these programs that help small farmers and local consumers alike are used to increase payments to the biggest corporate farms, to target more resources to those who already have the most income and resources. 

We need a farm bill that enables small and mid-size farmers to prosper, one that promotes local enterprises and healthy communities.  That’s exactly the opposite of what this one does.