The Rural Coalition and the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association see strong progress for this nation’s African American, Asian Pacific, Latino, and Tribal Farmers and Ranchers and rural communities in the strongly bipartisan Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, which passed the U. S. Senate in late June by a vote of 86-11. The bill preserves nutrition programs, leaves largely intact conservation and other key programs, and preserves clean water protections. Of great significance to our communities, it makes critical investments in tribal farmers and food systems and programs supporting the nation’s historically underserved, veteran and young farmers and ranchers, improves transparency in credit programs and removes barriers to cultivation of industrial hemp.
“The Agricultural Improvement Act passed yesterday is a huge step forward,” said Rural Coalition Board Member Rudy Arredondo, President of the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association. “We are extremely happy that the Senate Agriculture Committee leaders were able to stay focused on the essentials of as good a bipartisan farm bill as we can get in this political climate.”
“This bill turns the tide for African American and all other historically underserved farmers and ranchers,” said Rural Coalition Vice Chairperson Georgia Good, Executive Director of the Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund, which has worked since 1937 to improve the quality of life in rural communities in the South. We are grateful to Senator Tim Scott (SC) and Doug Jones (AL) for opening a critical new door to allow families of multiple generations operating on inherited land to be allowed in to the programs of USDA that all farmers need to thrive with their bill, S. 3117.
We further thank Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (KA) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (MI) for their patient and persistent leadership to work with us all to include these bills in a landmark package that values all rural communities and peoples.”
According to Rural Coalition Chairperson John Zippert of the Alabama Association of Cooperatives, “The Federation of Southern Cooperatives estimates more than 40% of black owned land is in heirs property status ; including the Fair Access Act in this bill enables people in states that have the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property laws to access USDA programs more directly with less red tape.”
On behalf of our entire Coalition, we also thank Senators Robert and Stabenow, and also Senators Chris Van Hollen (MD), Tina Smith (MN), as well as Senator Jones for their diligent efforts to not only protect but improve the Outreach for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (OASDVFR), which has struggled for funding since 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 and will be improved with strong peer review processes.”
“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.
“The passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 out of the Senate with strong bipartisan support shows opportunity for young people to shape the future of their tribal, urban, and rural communities,” said Marc Grignon, Co-Director of Hempstead Project Heart, a Rural Coalition member group. “There are numerous provisions in the legislation passed which open the door for revitalization of the hemp industry to thrive in the United States again. We look forward to the House and Senate producing a conference bill that upholds tribal sovereignty, provides permanent support to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and lifts the barriers for the American Hemp Industry.”
“Everyone in our nation, who cares about a future for farmers, ranchers and rural communities needs to contact your Congressional delegations- and your Representative in particular – to rally behind the much stronger Senate bill as a solid base for a final 2018 Farm Bill.”
The next step is for the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives to hold a Conference Committee to merge and reconcile differences in the two bills. The Conference Committee is likely to convene in August to produce a final bill for passage in both houses before the end of September when the prior Farm Bill provisions expire.