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336417

Farm bill proposal: Strengthen subsidy limits, boost land stewardship

With its toothless payment limits, the U.S. farm program directs billions of dollars a year to the largest and wealthiest farmers in America while struggling family farmers often are overlooked, said the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, an advocate for small farmers. It called for farm bill reforms that would direct more funding to soil and water conservation and restrict subsidies to big operators.

“For decades, the farm bill’s safety net has had the same goal: To provide farmers some degree of protection against unpredictable disasters or sudden price declines, allowing them to stay in business for another year while providing for family living expenses,” said the coalition. “Yet, as it currently stands, the farm safety net serves as a open-ended entitlement subsidy that encourages land price inflation, soil-depleting farm practices and systems, farm consolidation, and declining farm opportunities.”

In a 144-page Farm Bill Platform, the coalition of four dozen grassroots groups supported a “single, comprehensive farm bill” that combined farm support and public nutrition programs, advanced racial equity, invested in rural economic development, and built a climate-resilient agricultural system.

“Congress should utilize the 2023 farm bill to invest in programs with the longest successful track record of addressing on-farm stewardship — the farm bill’s conservation, research, renewable energy programs — as the primary strategy to achieve and scale up climate-beneficial farming practices,” said the platform. “Furthermore, policy makers should be wary of unproven solutions — for example, agricultural carbon markets’ poor track record suggests they are unlikely to result in net decarbonization.”

The coalition said it opposed “any cuts to the farm bill through any process and … any cuts to anti-hunger programs.” It called for restoration of $7 billion for conservation programs, and “meaningful and effective per-farm caps on all farm bill programs,” including commodity programs and taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance, with the savings poured back into farm bill programs for economic growth, food equity and climate mitigation.

Limits on crop insurance subsidies — the government pays 62 cents of every $1 in premium — could save $20.2 billion over 10 years, said the platform. The reforms, such as limiting farms to a maximum of $50,000 a year in premium subsidy or requiring farms with more than $1 million in production to pay a larger share of the premium, would affect fewer than 3 percent of farms but would level the playing field for family farmers, it said.

Similarly, the coalition advocated a stricter definition of who is eligible for farm subsidies along with closing loopholes to the current limit of $125,000 per year per person or $250,000 per couple. String payment limits also would be enforced on USDA assistance through cost-sharing conservation programs, it said.

The document contained dozens of proposals for farm bill changes; its index of recommendations for reforms covered four pages.

To read the 2023 Farm Bill Platform, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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