Stabenow farm bill push starts with Urban Agriculture Act

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2016 - Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, rolled out legislation on Monday that would increase assistance for urban farmers.

Stabenow said the bill, the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016, would open a number of USDA programs to those involved in urban production agriculture. Specifically, the legislation allows for the development of urban farming cooperatives, increased research funding, and more access to USDA loan and risk management programs for urban farmers.

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“We're basically going through every part of the USDA programs and looking for ways to create opportunities for urban farmers within those programs,” the Michigan lawmaker told reporters Monday afternoon.

The legislation hasn't yet been officially introduced, but Stabenow said that will likely happen this week. The bill is unlikely to be pushed as standalone legislation, but rather as a potential component to the upcoming farm bill. Stabenow said by introducing the bill now, it will give lawmakers “an opportunity to really talk about these issues (and) get educated on what is happening around the country.

“We're going to start at the first of the year reviewing what has worked and not worked in the current farm bill and really looking at how we can strengthen what we've done in the past, so I think now is the time,” she said when asked about introducing the language so early. “It's not about introducing something at the last minute, we want to be at the beginning of the process so that we're part of the whole strategy on what the overall farm bill looks like.”

The bill was greeted with support from two major agricultural groups: the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation. NFU President Roger Johnson joined Stabenow on a press call trumpeting the bill, and he said NFU is supportive of making sure “emerging and existing urban producers have the tools and resources to join rural producers in maintaining a sustainable food system.”

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AFBF President Zippy Duvall shared similar sentiments. In a statement, he said AFBF “believes this legislation will build a stronger bond among all farmers - rural, suburban and urban.”  

Stabenow said she anticipated gaining bipartisan support once she started approaching Senate Republicans. One potential sticking point could be the already stretched USDA funds that the bill opens up to a bigger audience. Stabenow addressed that, saying the solution there is not excluding urban agriculture from farm bill programs like loans and risk management programs.

“If we are stretched on loans ... we need to look at that in total and be making sure that enough resources are there in total,” Stabenow said. “What we're doing here is basically allowing urban farmers to be a part of all of the tools created in the farm bill.”


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