Two Congress members during a special presentation on Capitol Hill Tuesday reintroduced identical bills in the House and Senate to renew focus on restoring rural jobs, family farms and local foods.
The "Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act of 2013," offered by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, addresses production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution barriers that limit growth in local and regional food markets.
Originally introduced in 2011 ahead of farm bill negotiations, the Act gained the support of nearly 100 legislative co-sponsors in the previous Congress. However, because a new five-year farm bill was not passed in 2012, and the 2008 Farm Bill was extended, some programs were discontinued.
The legislators' act authorizes funding for the discontinued programs, including the Market Promotion Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Value-Added Producer Grants.
Brown and Pingree released the updated version of the Local Farms Act for inclusion in a potential 2013 Farm Bill.
"Overall, these are non-partisan issues. Helping family farms through modest support and commonsense policy changes are popular in every corner of the country. I am hopeful we can go even further this year," Pingree said in a statement.
The bill has also gained support of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which says it addresses agricultural infrastructure, marketing and information barriers.
"The bill … makes smart investments that expand economic opportunities for farmers, increase jobs, and improve healthy food access in rural and urban America," NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner said.
During the special presentation Tuesday, Maine organic farmer Sarah Smith joined Pingree and Brown to express her support.
"Passage of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act will mean more jobs and income for farming communities nationwide and greater availability of high quality locally and regionally produced food for consumers," Smith said.
Specific proposals within the bill include:
Whole Farm Revenue Insurance for Diversified Operations
The bill would direct USDA's Risk Management Agency to develop a Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management insurance product that is available in all states and all counties. The product is relevant to all diversified operations, including, but not limited to, specialty crops and mixed grain-livestock or dairy operations, contract producers, and organic and conventional farms. The new insurance product would be offered at the same buy-up coverage levels as other policies, include a strong crop diversification bonus, and account for all the normal costs involved in moving the crop off the farm and into marketing channels.
The bill will improve institutional access to local and regional foods through a series of provisions regarding school meal procurement. For example, the bill would create USDA pilot projects through which school systems could experiment with local food procurement and would allow small school districts to make their own food purchases on an ongoing basis if doing so creates administrative savings.
The bill boosts rural investment by restoring funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant program to $20 million a year and improving its delivery, with an emphasis on regional market and supply chains. The bill also strengthens the Business & Industry Loan funding set-aside for local and regionally produced agriculture products and food enterprises, and provides authority for local and regional food system funding under Rural Business Opportunity Grants, Rural Business Enterprise Grants, and Community Facility Grants and Loans.
Farmers Markets and Local Food
The legislation will establish $20 million a year in mandatory farm bill direct funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. The expanded program will support direct farmer-to-consumer marketing but also will provide grants to scale up local and regional food enterprises, including processing, distribution, aggregation, storage, and marketing. Fifty percent of funding will go to direct marketing, with the remaining 50% to local and regional food system development beyond direct marketing, including institutional and retail value chains and markets.
The bill also increases funding for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program and provides funding for incentives through the SNAP program to encourage low-income consumers to purchase healthy local food directly from local farmers.
Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
The bill would expand the purpose of the Specialty Crop Block Grant program to include the consumption and availability of local/regional specialty crops, the profitability and ecological sustainability of specialty crops, and the affordability of specialty crops for low-income consumers.
National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
The legislation includes a provision to streamline and renew funding for national organic certification cost share to assist organic producers with the annual regulatory costs of producing certified organic products.
Assistance to Small and Very Small Meat and Poultry Processors
The bill improves market access for local and regional livestock and poultry producers by enhancing USDA's technical assistance and guidance to such facilities. It also helps farmers, ranchers, and small local processors by providing greater public information from USDA on approved meat labels.
NSAC's Hoefner added that the bill is a "tiny" investment for a big payoff.
"For an investment of just over $100 million a year, the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act can help a growing sector of the food system flourish," Hoefner said. "This investment is tiny in overall farm bill terms – roughly one-tenth of one percent of total farm bill spending – but big in its power to deliver real, lasting, and market-based benefits to farmers, consumers, and communities."