After more than a year of debate and congressional positioning, on May 13, 2002 the President signed The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (the Farm Bill).
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Farm Bill authorizes $190 billion to implement U.S. farm policy over the next 10 years. If these projected numbers are correct, that will translate into an estimated 90 percent increase over current budget costs. The higher price tag in farm policy will translate into some positive outcomes for rural communities and for others in need, but these expenditures could leave other needs unaddressed. The most positive aspects of the bill include:
- An increase in funding for land conservation programs that will benefit livestock farms and fruit/vegetable growers who have historically received little federal cash.
- Sharply expanded funding for the Conservation Security Program, which is a significant change in U.S. agricultural policy and initiates a structure of environmental stewardship payments for working farms attuned to the public good.
- Providing at least $600 million annually in new nutrition programs, including the restoration of food stamps to many legal immigrants. (This has been a major priority for the Conference)
A major disappointment was that while both the House and Senate voted to cap payments to individual farmers at $360,000 per year in federal assistance, the bill that emerged from Conference committee had no effective cap at all. Consequently large.scale operations will continue to pocket millions of dollars annually, while limiting the ability of smaller family farms to compete and survive. A majority of House and Senate members also voted to ban large corporate packers from owning livestock and farm operations in order to improve access to markets by small farmers and to encourage competition. But that too did not survive the Conference negotiations.
Additionally, there is some concern about the possible impact this Farm Bill will have on the United States( ability to negotiate international trade agreements. This is the first Farm Bill that Congress has passed since the U.S. entered into an agreement with the WTO, and one of the primary reasons the U.S. is entering into such trade agreements is to gain access to foreign markets. However, this new Farm Bill continues the policy of subsidizing American farmers and making it difficult for foreign farmers to gain access to the U.S. marketplace. The WTO and other countries could use such a policy as an excuse to break current trade agreements and keep the U.S. from selling their products to developing countries.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops have always advocated for an agricultural system that is broadly owned, supports the family farm and rural communities, and provides necessary assistance to hungry families. Based on these general principles, the Conference and NCRLC advocated for provisions in the bill that supported these principles. We made progress on nutrition and food stamps, and conservation, but these victories came at a huge price given the impact on the budget and international trade.
For Further Information
Andy Rivas 202.541.3190; (fax) 202.541.3339; email@example.com
Bob Gronski, NCRLC, 515-270-2634; (fax) 515-270-9447); firstname.lastname@example.org.