2012 “FARRM” Bill Woes

U.S. Congress has been discussing and debating the reauthorization of the national FARM Bill, the law that regulates all things farm related and much more  – like public assistance food programs. This year the FARM bill update is oh-so-cleverly called the “FARRM” Bill: the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. Unfortunately, the content is about as scintillating as the title; the provisions of the bill have been increasingly getting worse. The Recirculating Farms Coalition issued a statement (see the full statement here), calling on Congress to get their Act together – literally – and craft a meaningful and useful FARRM bill. Maybe they just need a few more R’s?

The most recent agricultural census figures show that U.S. farmers are aging, with the 65 or older segment rapidly expanding. To ensure long-term food security and economic growth, it is critical to encourage more people, and also young people, to farm. That means enacting policies that make it less risky to run small farms, and more rewarding to grow fresh, local, affordable food that U.S. consumers need. Some provisions of FARRM — such as the development of a whole-farm crop insurance product for diversified farms, renewed funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and an innovative proposal to make microloans available to beginning farmers — are wins for small farmers. However, the bill also slashes other programs designed to benefit small farms and beginning farmers and to help them with the cost of organic certification.

In addition, FARRM makes deep cuts to food stamp funding in a time of need and guts conservation programs that protect our land, air, and water. It also expands handouts to large, corporate farming operations, increasing their advantages over smaller farms that operate in more environmentally friendly ways. These are all poor policies.

The result is a bill that misses important opportunities to improve our food system. Among these is the failure to recognize the expanding popularity of recirculating agriculture, an eco-efficient farming method that includes hydroponics (growing plants), recirculating aquaculture (raising fish) and aquaponics (growing plants and fish in one combined system). These farms are closed-loop, soil-free, and recycle water. Recirculating farms are ideal operations for new and young farmers, because they can be inexpensive to build and run in virtually any setting, including indoors, on paved urban lots, and even otherwise unused space, like rooftops. They are an innovative, fun way for new farmers to join in the burgeoning local food movement and provide fresh, healthy foods for themselves and their communities. (see a video of our ED talking about recirculating farms at TEDx Manhattan in January)

Let’s hope Congress puts aside their bipartisan nonsense and takes the time to really consider what is important to the U.S. right now and how crafting a solid update to the Farm bill could promote growth of sustainable agriculture and support a healthy economy and healthy country.

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