farm bill conservation titles

IN THE AREA of conservation, the new Farm Bill consolidates conservation programs for more flexibility, accountability and adaptability at the local level. 

What’s new in Farm Bill other than commodity programs?

In addition to the commodity titles, there is a myriad of non-crop programs in the latest version of the Farm Bill, covering everything from beginning farmers to interational trade.

By now, most farmers hopefully have at least a passing familiarity with the basics of the new Farm Bill and how it relates to specific commodities. But what about the myriad of non-crop programs contained in the legislation?

Forrest Stegelin, an Extension agribusiness economist with the University of Georgia, says he gets calls every day from agribusinesses, rural mayors, chambers of commerce and county commissioners, as well as farmers and ranchers in the state who have questions about various titles of the farm bill that don’t necessarily relate to a specific commodity.

“One of the more frequent questions has to do with beginning farmers because we’re having a major nationwide emphasis now on getting the millennial generation into farming. There’s a major concern that as older farmers retire, we need to have someone to take over the reins. In some people’s minds, these are considered beginning farmers,” said Stegelin at the Southern Region Outlook Conference in Atlanta.

Stegelin says he discovered there were references to beginning farmers and ranchers in various titles of the Farm Bill, including Title II-Conservation, Title V-Credit, Title VI-Rural Development, Title VII-Research, Title XI-Crop Insurance, and even Title-XII-Miscellaneous.

“For ‘next-generation’ farmers and ranchers, which is how the bill refers to beginning farmers, the new legislation provides $100 million for the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development program to facilitate farmland transition to the next generation of farmers. This is for when farmland is transferred from one generation to the next, from father to son or daughter,” he says.

Provisions in the new bill also improve outreach and communication to military veterans about farming and ranching opportunities by establishing a Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison.

“It also increases access to capital and supports crop insurance and risk management tools, including reducing crop insurance premiums during the first five years of farming. But the ownership limitation states that the farm size cannot exceed 30 percent of the average county acreage for eligibility, which essentially is a small family farm. So if there are farmers who have been in business for decades or even generations and want to pass the farm on to their son or daughter and they want them to reap some of these benefits, the government is saying there is a limit to the farm size. The rule is that the individual is just beginning in farming, not the farm itself,” says Stegelin.

The Farm Bill continues USDA Rural Development programs, he says, to support investments in the rural economy through grants, loans and loan guarantees with the emphasis on essential infrastructure, small business development, job creation and growth through the  Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, trying to get small businesses – “mom and pop” type business – established in rural communities.

“It also provides funding for water and wastewater infrastructure,” says Stegelin. “Many communities are discovering that water is their scarcest resource, and some areas are experiencing growing populations while others are seeing competition for water resources between agriculture and other needs. So they’re trying to develop wells and water treatment programs.”

It reserves portion of certain programs for regional, long-term investments to better promote economic development through regional planning and the leveraging of resources, especially local resources.

International market development

In the area of trade and foreign agriculture, the Farm Bill continues authorization for $200 million annually for international market development, primarily by state departments of agriculture, he says.

“It also authorizes funding for Local and Regional Procurement (LRP) and makes the program permanent rather than temporary, as it was before. It provides more flexibility for USAID to use cash assistance in administering the Food for Peace program. Money does talk, even in these developing countries. It also increases flexibility for assistance in emergency situations, such as in the case of famine in East Africa and other places.”

In the area of research, the Farm Bill endows $400 million for a foundation for agricultural research and extension – applied research – and public policy education, says Stegelin. Also, it doubles the funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) to $80 million annually.

“As far as conservation, the new Farm Bill consolidates conservation programs for flexibility, accountability and adaptability at the local level, so we can see more clearly where the money is going and what the outcomes are. It links basic conservation programs to crop insurance premium subsidies for highly erodible lands and wetlands. It also builds upon previous successful partnerships and encourages agricultural producers and partners to design conservation projects that focus on and address regional priorities. It places accountability more at the local level rather focusing on a multi-state philosophy.”

In the area of renewable energy and energy efficiency, the bill reauthorizes and provides $880 million to energy programs established in the 2008 Farm Bill (the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Biobased Marketing Program, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program). It expands Biorefineray Assistance Program to include bio-based products and renewable chemical manufacturing. It also expands the Biopreferred program to include forestry products.

“As for forestry specifically, it makes the Stewardship Contracting Authority permanent, allowing the Forest Service to conduct restoration work and stimulate job growth. It also makes the Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) permanent and available nationwide. GNA allows state foresters to conduct restoration services on National Forest System Lands.”

As for nutrition, the new Farm Bill maintains the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for millions of low-income families, those needing a food assistance safety net to put food on the table, says Stegelin.

It provides $200 million for job training and $100 million to increase fruit and vegetable purchases. Also, it provides $250 million in additional funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), for natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes, and it authorizes $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to make nutritious food more accessible.

In the area of local and regional food systems, the Farm Bill renames Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) to “Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program” and provides $30 million annually. It also continues to reserve funds in the Business & Industry Loan Program for locally and regionally-focused businesses. It also advances growth of local and regional food hubs and systems for Value Added Product Market Development Grants.

As for the farm safety net, Stegelin reminds growers that the new Farm Bill eliminates direct payments and continues crop  insurance. Producers must make a five-year choice between the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), which will force agribusinesses to focus on inventory management and sales of supply chain products and services for their customers. It also restores livestock disaster assistance for losses dating back to 2011, and establishes a permanent livestock disaster program. In addition, it establishes the Dairy Margin Protection program.

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