4. Making use of local produce
In the past few years,
Vermont-grown tomatoes, zucchini, and basil have started showing up in the
school cafeteria meals of Vermont children. This is no coincidence. This new
development required a great deal of coordination between public schools,
nonprofit organizations, area farmers and school food service staff.
5. Countdown to the Senate
Farm Bill Review
This gives us a great opportunity to share with you some aspects of the Farm Bill that we don’t usually have the time or space to talk about in our regular updates. For one thing, we thought that it might be useful to point out that we have a document on our website that goes over the ten separate sections of the Farm Bill and what all is included in these ten different components of the legislation. You can check it out here. Along with these ten sections of the Farm Bill, there are some additional titles that have been proposed in the past and are coming up again in this round.
One of these proposals is a set of bills known collectively as the Competition Title. These proposals seek to combat increased concentration and lack of competition in the agricultural sector that occurs as a result of a few companies owning most or all of the components of the food production chain. Small farmers are hurt by concentration and consolidation because it lessens their bargaining power, enables prices to be manipulated, and restricts their options in negotiating contracts. The National Farmers Union found that the top four companies in the beef, pork, poultry, flour milling, and soybean crushing sectors controlled more than 40% of the market, which is the limit at which economists say that competition starts to decline. That report can be accessed here.
An agricultural market that lacks legitimate competition not only affects small farmers, but also consumers. When competition decreases, consumers can be faced with fewer choices, higher prices, and lower quality products. With the recent upsurge of food recalls, it is important to consider how the consolidation of food production can negatively affect food safety. In February of 2007, the Center for Food Safety, along with the National Black Farmers Association, criticized a Monsanto merger in a report found here.
The version of the Farm Bill that was passed in the House in July did not address competition in a meaningful way. A competition title was proposed for inclusion in the 2002 Farm Bill, but was blocked in part by the lobbying efforts of large livestock companies. More information about what is specifically contained in the bills known as the Competitive Title can be found on the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s “Understanding the Farm Bill” report.
Aimee Witteman from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also wrote a piece about the competition title on the Grist blog, found here.
While CFSC does not have an official position on the
Competition Title, we do believe that
promoting fair and active competition in the food system helps keep our food
safe, the marketplace healthy, and family farmers on the land.
We encourage you to follow the links above and become more educated on these
The “Washington Insider” section of DTN stated that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) are working with other members of the Agriculture Committee to come up with enough votes to approve the alternative plan they have generated. The article states that Sen. Conrad has already wooed Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), by offering more funding for the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, and he will continue to work on other members. The alternative plan is considered by some to be a direct challenge to proposals made by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA). (FarmPolicy.com, Oct. 10)
Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) made some comments regarding the Farm Bill process in the Senate so far. Sen. Grassley mentioned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has a different approach from former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) who worked aggressively on the 2002 Farm Bill. Sen. Grassley said Sen. Reid is pretty consistent in keeping out of committee work and relying upon the chairmen to get their work done. Sen. Grassley also defended Sen. Harkin's handling of the Farm Bill, stating “Harkin ‘can’t be condemned for not coming forth with a bill if he doesn’t know how much money he’s dealing with,’ says Grassley. Grassley urged Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss to use those dollars for conservation programs and value-added agriculture. He would also like to see some of the money go to the African-American farmers who were denied entry in the Pigford settlement case. (FarmPolicy.com, Oct. 11)
"Make the Farm Bill Fair"
A coalition of nine groups including Oxfam America, the Environmental Working Group, and Taxpayers for Common Sense are putting pressure on the Senate to institute meaningful reforms to commodity payment programs. The campaign includes a tagline "Make the Farm Bill Fair". Although united for reform, the groups making up the coalition have some different goals. Some, like Environmental Working Group and the Land Stewardship Project, based in Minnesota, want more money for land stewardship and rural development. Taxpayers for Common Sense would phase out crop supports altogether. (FarmPolicy.com, Oct 11)
Conservation Advocates Push Senators
Twenty-three conservation and environmental groups have co-signed a letter to U.S. senators telling them the Senate farm bill has to at least match the House farm bill on conservation spending or the proposal "falls short." The groups called on the Agriculture Committee to add at least $2 billion more in funding to the pot created by the Finance Committee package. The letter sent to Senate leadership as well as the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee. A spokeswoman for Harkin said Thursday that he is still looking to spend more on conservation than the House bill, though he noted in a news conference last week that conservation was "under attack" by forces wanting to spend more money elsewhere in the bill. (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oct. 11th).
Specialty Crop Growers
An article in the Financial Times talked about the demands of specialty crop growers, which include increased money in research on issues specific to specialty crops, and also market development. They have not requested subsidy payments similar to what is received by crops like corn, wheat, and rice.
Specialty crop growers do support the current restriction on planting fruits and vegetables on acres that are considered "base acres" for commodity crops. They feel that landowners who receive commodity payments would have an unfair advantage over farmers who have traditionally only planted specialty crops, and therefore can't fall back on subsidy payments. This restriction has been a point of contention in the World Trade Organization, and there is some movement to do away with that planting restriction.
The Price of Food
Food prices are up, and many people have ideas as to why this is. Some factors may include the rising cost of oil, federal subsidies, a weak US dollar that raises the price of imports, higher commodity prices, and a larger global growing middle class increasing demand on foods, especially meat. Demand for wheat is also at a record high due to a shortage of supply, making the price skyrocket. Many of these issues were discussed on The Diane Rehm Radio Show last Tuesday, and the guests included Bruce Babcock (professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University), Dan Morgan (special correspondent, Washington Post and fellow, German Marshal Fund of the United States) and Lauren Etter (reporter, Wall Street Journal). You can listen to the show by clicking here. (FarmPolicy.com, Oct. 9)
Concerns Over Ethanol
Cornelia Dean reported in the New York Times on Oct. 11 that increasing the acres of crops grown for ethanol could harm water quality and leave some parts of the country more prone to water shortages. Corn is the most widely grown crop to produce fuel in the US, and it may cause more damage per unit of energy than other fuel crops. This makes conservation provisions in this coming Farm Bill more important than ever.
from Our Allies
Thanks for your support, and be sure to call our Senate champions to say thank you!
Steph, Kacie, and Sarah
Community Food Security Coalition
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