Senate Agriculture Committee examines nutrition and local foods programs for 2012 Farm Bill

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2012 - The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee examined USDA's nutrition and local and regional food marketing programs today during its third Farm Bill hearing of the year. 

The committee continued the Farm Bill 2012 process with the "Healthy Food Initiatives, Local Production and Nutrition" hearing, where Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said regional food hubs and local food systems help create jobs and re-introduce agriculture to young and beginning farmers. 

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“Local food programs represent a very small percentage of the bill, but they make a very big impact in our communities, creating jobs and improving access to locally-grown foods,” Stabenow said. “Local food efforts are leveraging private dollars to create more economic opportunity in rural communities and more choices for consumers.”

Ranking Member Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said all titles of the Farm Bill should be consolidated and evaluated in this budget environment.

“As we hear from our witnesses today, I look forward to hearing how we can consolidate, streamline, and consider programs that are the best use of taxpayer dollars, just like we asked our conservation, rural development and energy witnesses in previous hearings,” Roberts said. 

Roberts said USDA has 27 programs geared toward the local foods sector, which he said “is concerning given our budget situation, coupled with our mission to reduce waste, duplication, and redundancy.” 

However, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) policy director Ferd Hoefner said that the 27 programs include conservation, farm credit, rural economic development and marketing programs authorized by Congress for “wide ranging purposes.”

Hoefner said the Farmers Market Promotion Program, funded by the 2008 Farm Bill at $10 million a year, is primarily directed at local farmers and the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program includes a 5 percent set-aside for local and regional food enterprises.  

“The rest of the programs referenced by Senator Roberts are broad programs addressing key needs of US agriculture and rural communities that can address, among many other considerations, local and regional farm issues,” Hoefner said. 

Roberts also cited the $3.4 billion per year in errors from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the largest part of the Farm Bill budget. SNAP currently serves more than 46 million people. President Obama requested $70 billion to fund SNAP food benefits in his 2013 budget proposal. 

“We should be at least as motivated to eliminate fraud, waste, abuse, loop-holes and to find efficiencies in SNAP as others are motivated to eliminate commodity safety net programs,” Roberts said. 

The Senate Agriculture Committee is using its $23 billion in Farm Bill cuts it drafted with the House Agriculture Committee for the "Super Committee" last year as a framework for the next Farm Bill. Those cuts included $15 billion from commodity programs, $6 billion from conservation programs and $4 billion from nutrition programs. 


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