By Mark Schonebeck
Mark Schonbeck has worked over 30 years as a researcher, consultant, and educator in sustainable and organic agriculture. He has participated in on-farm research into mulching, cover crops, minimum tillage, and nutrient management for organic vegetables. Mark offers individual consulting in soil test interpretation and soil, crop, and weed management for sustainable farmers. He serves as policy advocacy liaison for VABF.
An Executive Summary of the Platform is posted at http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/path-to-2018-farm-bill-platform/. To view the complete NSAC Farm Bill Platform, visit the NSAC publications page at http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/ and click on An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill, dated October 2017
After many months of research, analysis, discussion, and deliberation, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has developed and released its Platform for the next reauthorization of the Federal Farm Bill, scheduled to be completed on Capitol Hill and signed by the President by the end of September 2018. Key aspects of the NSAC Farm Bill Platform include:
- Expand funding for organic and sustainable research, education, and extension.
- Secure the seeds for the future through public plant breeding Research and Development, emphasizing release of public cultivars, and training the next generation of public plant breeders.
- Support the growth of the local and regional food economy through infrastructure and market development to connect producers with consumers, especially including children and low-income individuals and communities.
- Increase opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers. Facilitate transfer of land, knowledge, and skills from the current to future generations of family farmers.
- Build the capacity of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs to promote and support high-level resource stewardship, and maximize benefits to producers, ecosystems, and society.
- Reform Farm Bill crop insurance programs to level the playing field for small, diversified farms, make basic conservation a requirement for participation, and reward – not deter – high-level conservation and sustainable practices.
- Advance racial equity throughout the United States (US) agricultural and food system.
- Reaffirm the USDA’s Rural Development Mission Area.
- Protect and expand funding for conservation, local food, rural development, and beginning farmer programs.
This Platform, to which VABF (as a Represented Member of NSAC) is signatory, provides the basis for advocacy efforts throughout the 2018 Farm Bill process. Already, things are moving quickly, as Senate and House Agriculture Committees have held numerous hearings on topics from research and conservation to rural development and local food systems. Shortly after NSAC released the platform on October 24, they delivered a copy to every Member of Congress to help lay the groundwork for a busy year of advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill.
Some encouraging recent developments arising from Farm Bill advocacy work by NSAC and/or NSAC member groups include:
- The American Prairies Conservation Act strengthens “sodsaver” provisions in the Crop Insurance title and applies them nationwide. NSAC press release October 4, 2017: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/american-prairies-conservation-act/.
- A coalition of 60 organizations including NSAC delivered a consensus document to Congress containing recommendations for an expanded and strengthened Research, Extension and Education Title in the 2018 Farm Bill, with emphasis on Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program (BFRDP), and Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). NSAC Blog October 20: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/research-consensus-recommendations/.
- On the same topic, agriculture Committee hearings earlier this year on Capitol Hill revealed bipartisan support for robust research funding (NSAC Blog July 4: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/organics-specialty-crops-and-local-food-on-display-in-senate-hearing/), and a bipartisan marker bill, the Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2017, would increase funding for OREI to $50 million per year in the 2018 Farm Bill, making its funding permanent. NSAC Blog May 17, http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/organic-ag-research-act-2017/.
- The Local Food and Regional Market Supply (Local FARMS) Act, a bipartisan marker bill to strengthen direct markets and local/regional food system infrastructure programs in the 2018 Farm Bill, was introduced in Congress in early October. NSAC Blog October 4: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/local-farms-act/.
- NSAC joined 25 other groups in delivering recommendations for the Conservation Title in the 2018 Farm Bill. NSAC Blog September 28: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/conservation-consensus/
Watch for additional developments, and calls for grassroots action, in coming issues of the VABF e-newsletter.