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Farm Bill Basics 2012: Bring it on!

March 11, 2011
by Kasi Boyd

I was recently tasked with researching the Farm Bill for the “common person”. The job sounded simple: What is it, who benefits from it, and which critical areas are ripe for change.

I like farms and fresh food, I volunteer at a school garden, I work at a sustainable ag organization. Why have I heard so little about it?

The Farm Bill represents less than 2% of the government’s budget.  But, it adds up to around $300 billion, and its scope is vast. Ultimately, it determines what Americans eat, how healthy we are, and what happens to our natural resources.

In 2012, it’s on the chopping block again, which means now is when we need to get educated and involved! We also need to educate Congress so they make the needed changes for our future — healthy eating, healthy ecosystems, and thriving rural communities (where we grow our food!).

Unfortunately, the Farm Bill is not an easy piece of legislation to understand. Here are some basics:

  • It started as The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916, and receives a new name every time it’s reauthorized (Congress-speak for “renewed”). Last time it was passed in Congress, it was called The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.
  • It’s an omnibus bill, meaning it is one document accepted in a single vote by Congress, but it actually contains many measures, amendments, and even new laws in a single bill.
  • Currently, the Farm Bill is comprised of 15 Titles (aka sections or chapters) covering: Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, Rural Development, Research, Forestry, Energy, Horticulture & Organic Ag, Livestock, Crop Insurance, Commodity Futures, Miscellaneous acts, and Trade & Taxes.

Over the next several months, I’m going to track my journey peeling back the layers of the Farm Bill, like an onion.

My plan of action:

  1. Read Daniel Imhoff’s Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill and Marion Nestle’s Food Politics. DONE!
  2. Catalog the most useful websites covering the Farm Bill. DONE!
  3. Consult with USDA Library for more resources. DONE!
  4. Create (and post) glossary of all Farm Bill jargon. Appropriations, titles, and marker bills, oh my. DONE!
  5. Figure out where the 2008 Farm Bill allocated the $300B, at least roughly. In progress…
  6. TBD!

I have a mountain of research ahead of me. But, I’m excited to untangle this mystery and share what I find!


One Comment leave one →
  1. Sami Osman permalink
    January 14, 2013 9:35 am

    Hi Kasi,
    I hope you are well mate. I think this is a great idea and I wish you all the best in your efforts!
    I’ve only just moved to the States and seem to have stumbled across one of those times when you are privy to decision making which will have far reaching effects for many years to come. As an ‘outsider’, with relatively little understanding of what the Farm Bill actually entails, much of the rhetoric in the current debates on the Bill seem quite alarming to me. To put it most simply, they read something like, hey times are really tough, without being able to continue to throw money at agriculture, we would be in some serious trouble. It seems very much like many of the underlying problems are not even being considered, but are simply taken for granted. It leaves me wondering where/when debates regarding such issues might be taking place. For instance, with respect to crop insurance, the message reads something like, if it were not for crop insurance (which we can no longer afford to pay) these changing climatic conditions would really present quite a problem for agriculture. Until recently, I was not aware that the food stamp program (and many other programs) was also a part of the Farm Bill. No wonder some doubt the GOP will pass the bill.
    Anyways, I would really like to educate myself about the ins and outs a little more, so that I can better understand the situation, as I think there is quite a lot at stake here, and I don’t think any of us can continue to be apathetic and blame others for the problems around us.
    Good work mate, best of luck. I will also check out your other work.

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