Two national organizations representing thousands of rural farmers and communities today commended the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 released by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Friday. The Rural Coalition and National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) applaud the Committee, Chairman Pat Roberts, and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow for the bipartisan bill. While the bill stops short of fundamental changes to provide a fair price to all producers, it contains important provisions to address the dairy crisis; protects and expands equity for tribal, historically underserved, veteran, and beginning farmers and ranchers; and preserves the integrity of nutrition programs. The bill also makes two critical updates to farm credit programs to benefit family farmers.
At a moment when dairy farmers are receiving prices as low as 30 percent below the cost of production, the Senate farm bill takes an important first step towards improving those prices for by establishing a Class 1 Fluid Milk donation program. The program will provide $5 billion per year to reimburse dairy farmers who make donations to non-profit feeding programs.
Wisconsin dairy farmer and NFFC board president Jim Goodman noted, “The inclusion of a fluid milk donation program in the Senate farm bill will help two groups of people in need: dairy farmers who have been trying to survive on milk prices that are well below cost of production and people who cannot afford to put food on the table. Many people struggling with food insecurity are working, many are children – and some are farmers themselves. The dairy donation program will provide significant relief to all of these populations.”
Two credit provisions in the Senate bill will bring further relief to farmers facing today’s credit crisis. The provisions offer new favorable loan servicing options to help farm families preserve farmland and avoid foreclosure, as well as expanding eligibility for emergency loans following a catastrophe such as a drought or flood.
“NFFC and Rural Coalition have fought for equitable farm credit since our work on the 1987 Agricultural Credit Act, which slowed the 1980s farm crisis,” said Savonala Horne, Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of Black Farmers Land Loss Prevention Project, a board member of both organizations. “These critical but common sense changes to the law will keep more family farmers on the land through the challenges rural America is again facing today.”
The bill also strengthens equity for tribal farmers and food systems and invests in programs supporting the nation’s historically underserved, veteran and young farmers and ranchers. It is notable for measures to strengthen and fund programs to assist small farmers and grow local food and farm systems. Among these is the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (OASDVFR), which has struggled for funding since it was first authorized in 1990, and since military veteran farmers and ranchers were added in 2014. The Senate bill links OASDVFR with the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program and strengthens and provides permanent authority to both programs. Under the new bill, the programs would equally share permanent direct funding of $50 million.
“We have been working hard for decades to bring equity to the farm bill in terms of treatment for Black farmers and other farmers of color to build cooperatives and to uplift low-wealth communities. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 addresses continuing inequities and supports the quality hands-on assistance needed to make sure the 2018 farm bill reaches everyone,” said Rural Coalition Chairperson John Zippert, based in rural Alabama.
Rural Coalition and NFFC further commend Senators Roberts and Stabenow for a farm bill package that, unlike its counterpart in the House of Representatives, takes a strong bipartisan stance on ensuring food access for all communities, by retaining funding and authority for the crucial Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It also increases support for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program and related initiative to strengthen local food systems.
The Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural is an alliance of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous, migrant, and working people from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and beyond working together toward a new society that values unity, hope, people, and land.
NFFC unites and strengthens the voices and actions of its diverse grassroots member organizations in 30 states to demand viable livelihoods for family farmers, safe and healthy food for everyone, and economically and environmentally sound rural communities.