Compost Cab

The Farm Bill Extension Is Bad for Local Ag

The New York Times has posted an excellent graphic explaining the McConnell-Biden plan to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Like most compromises, nobody seems to like this one. There’s been plenty of hand-wringing from both left and right, almost exclusively about the tax components of the deal. Lost in the din? The nine-month extension to the farm bill. From the Times’ graphic, emphasis ours:

[The deal] extends for nine months portions of the current farm bill, including provisions that would prevent milk prices from increasing and continued direct payments to farmers. Eliminates conservation programs and financing for fruit and vegetable growers and organic farmers and does not include disaster assistance.

To the degree that anyone is talking about the implications of this deal on our food system, they’re talking about keeping milk prices from rising dramatically. But there’s a lot more to it than that. From Politico:

The upshot is a victory for Southern agricultural interests with the greatest stake in a costly system of direct cash payments to often already profitable producers. In the dairy arena, giant processors like Dean Foods Co. come out ahead while the outcome is a major blow for the National Milk Producers Federation, which watched with disbelief from the sidelines on New Year’s Eve.

“The deal is blatantly anti-reform,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Many smaller, targeted programs to fund farm and food system reform and rural jobs…were left out completely.”

“The message is unmistakable – direct commodity subsidies, despite high market prices, are sacrosanct, while the rest of agriculture and the rest of rural America can simply drop dead.”

Rough. And sadly, pretty accurate. The programs that didn’t make it into the deal are the ones that support the sort of small, multi-crop growers that are the cornerstone of  the local food movement. So that’s the bad news.

The good news? It’s only a nine-month extension. The full five-year $500 billion reauthorization that passed the Senate by a wide, bi-partisan margin back in June died in the Republican-controlled House. So the farm bill will be in play again in 2013. Happy new year! Let’s get our heads in the game and make sure local ag, and urban ag in particular, get a bigger piece of the pie.