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46116

Farm policy proposal targets beginning farmers, value-added markets

A group of more than 350 farm, health and consumer organizations on Monday released a plan to support an overhaul of the federal farm program to address issues they say are left untouched by current legislation, including support for beginning farmers and those producers actively pursuing conservation measures.

Spearheaded by the Farm and Food Policy Project (FFPP), Monday's announcement included directors of such ag groups as the American Farmland Trust and Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The report, entitled "Seeking Balance in U.S. Farm and Food Policy" is targeted at a broad range of food production and consumption outcomes, those most lacking under the current farm bill, said FFPP coordinator Allen Hance.

"What we want from our food system and what we get in ag policy are out of balance. We can do much better," Hance said Monday. "It's not surprising if you start with the idea that the farm bill shapes the food system that we all depend on, and sets important parts of our nation's rural, nutrition, environmental and energy policies."

Hance said some of the areas where the FFPP plan would strengthen government support include for new and beginning farmers, minority farmers, those "seeking conservation measures and those entering new markets," as well as research toward curbing diet- and hunger-related health issues, including obesity.

In addition to pursuing some policy outcomes that are often neglected in current legislation, American Farmland Trust president Ralph Grossi said the release of Monday's FFPP report has been predicated on a lack of action and funding of some parts of current legislation.

"Our federal farm policies no longer meet the needs of most farmers, ranchers or the general public," Grossi said Monday. "Often, programs are left full of promise and not funded. There are a tremendous number of unmet needs related to agriculture and food, and the best program ideas are desperate for funding."

For Grossi, these program ideas include bringing along new markets for local and value-added products and markets. He added one way to accomplish these goals is through grants and loans for growers pursuing these markets, including value-added marketing loans.

Support for new and beginning farmers is just as vital to an effective farm program, and that's something Sustainable Agriculture Coalition policy director Ferd Hoefner said Monday is lacking from current legislation. For Hoefner, providing opportunities for new farmers to enter the industry will have a snowball effect that will propagate new markets and more rural vitality if the right supportive policy is in place.

"Among our critical innovations are a comprehensive beginning farmer initiative, increased investment in the development of value-added value chains, organic farming transition support to meet the growing organic food demand and major steps to restore fair and competitive markets," Hoefner said Monday. "We need to retool rural development programs to develop community assets. We can add jobs, increase income and improve rural life, but we need increased support for ag research to make the farms of the future more profitable and sustainable."

Hoefner added the programs being proposed in the FFPP report are not "pie in the sky," but rather "concrete proposals and targeted investments for a more sustainable future."

A group of more than 350 farm, health and consumer organizations on Monday released a plan to support an overhaul of the federal farm program to address issues they say are left untouched by current legislation, including support for beginning farmers and those producers actively pursuing conservation measures.

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