The Farm Bill for Dummies


By Suzannah Schneider

Big things are happening in environmental headlines. Rio+20 has begun, a heat wave has swept the Northeast, and the sky is falling! Oh wait, not yet. But the United States Farm BillHAS hit the Senate Floor with a heavy thud. The number of proposed amendments to the nearly expired 2008 bill began around 300, and has since been reduced to a list of 73 issues. The voting process began on Tuesday and should be finalized today.

Why should we care? Because there are some pretty outlandish proposals on the table, as well as a few sound decisions. The new five-year measure would cost $969 billion over the next decade and includes $23.6 billion in proposed cuts. There is a lot at stake. With so many issues to watch, it’s tough to know which ones matter. Here’s a quick guide to the most crucial decisions:

The Good:

  • Legislation is set to add more money for programs for specialty crop growers, meaning produce growers (isn’t it insane that fruits and vegetables are considered to be “specialty” items?!). This would allow for more research and promotion of fruits and vegetables.
  • The bill ends direct payments made to farmers regardless of whether they plant a crop. That program currently costs $5 billion a year. Instead, a crop insurance program will be implemented to protect farmers
  • More peas, lentils, and chickpeas will be added to the federal school lunch program. Hooray for legumes!

The Bad:

  • An amendment that would prevent anyone with over $250,000 in annual adjusted gross income from receiving any kind of federal farm payment was defeated.
  • Genetically Modified Organisms in food will continue to be unlabelled. Meanwhile, India has started to label GMO foods!
  • The bill cuts financing for food stamps
  • The number of conservation programs has been sliced from 23 to 13

The Ridiculous:

  • A $20 million program was passed to fund a reality television and fashion show in India to promote cotton, and Indian cotton at that. This program also supports a line of organic hair products for cats, dogs, and horses.

For more news on impending Farm Bill decisions, check out Farm Bill Primer and the NYTimes’ updates