Today, the halls of Congress are empty as legislators are back in their districts for a five week recess. And they left Washington without acting on a new Farm Bill.
The single largest federal investment in private lands conservation comes from programs authorized every five years in the Farm Bill. Programs to protect farmland, improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat all come from this important legislation. For example, public programs, including those authorized by the Farm Bill, combined have permanently protected more than 16,000 farms covering nearly 3 million acres, keeping farmers on the land and ensuring our food security. This work to protect and conserve our natural resources may soon be in jeopardy if Congress does not pass the Farm Bill by September 30.
The development pressures on America’s farmland and the conservation challenges facing family farmers do not take a break. We have been losing farmland to development at a rate of nearly one acre every minute. If the Farm Bill fails because of Congressional gridlock, future conservation funding is placed in serious jeopardy and threatens to cost us our best, most productive agricultural lands.
Congressional inactivity also threatens the ability of farmers to stay on the land. Many are left with an uncertain future, not knowing whether the bill will fail, creating market volatility. For example, the USDA Market Access program and the Foreign Market Development program will have to close at the end of next month, harming exports and cutting farm income. Opportunities to provide fresh, local foods require funding for programs such as the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Specialty Crop Block Grants and Value-Added Producer Grants. Similarly, the uncertainty over insurance and crop payments has many ranchers and farmers holding back on new investment and reducing production, thus increasing food prices and slashing farm income.
The clock is ticking. Congress has scheduled only nine session days for September, and the Farm Bill expires on the 30th.
We have come too far this year to allow the Farm Bill to stall and to let funding to protect farm and ranch land slip away.
We need a new, comprehensive Farm Bill that reinvests in farmland conservation, that provides sound conservation practices and that helps farmers stay on the land. There is too much at stake to allow Congress to simply turn its back on these important programs.
Andrew McElwaine is President of American Farmland Trust. American Farmland Trust is the nation’s leading conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more. AFT’s national office is located in Washington, DC. Phone: 202-331-7300. For more information, visit www.farmland.org.