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Report gives Congress an 'F' for payment limitations, 'A' for conservation partnerships

The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition this week gave Congress and the Bush administration low marks for implementation of key parts of the 2002 farm bill and issued a comprehensive reform agenda for the upcoming 2007 farm bill.

The group gave Congress a D+ and the Administration a C- for its farm bill efforts on ten key components of the 2002 bill. In its platform for the new farm bill, the Coalition calls on Congress to embrace reform and construct policies and programs that promote economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, and rural prosperity.

"Congress and the Administration have largely failed family farmers and rural Americans in implementing and funding the most important reforms of the last farm bill," says Margaret Huelsman, the group's national coordinator. "The 2002 farm bill included some practical solutions to urgent farm, environmental and rural problems, but severe funding cutbacks and administrative delays have left farmers, rural communities and conservation partnerships waiting for these solutions.

"The next farm bill must restore funding for innovative programs and make a substantial down payment on a new generation of food and farm policies."

In the report, the group asserts that the best way to engage mounting rural and environmental problems and farm bill pressures related to trade negotiations and budget difficulties is to tackle reform head on and move toward sustainable, long-term solutions. The platform lays out a detailed set of forward-looking remedies.

"We recognize some other agriculture groups are recommending delaying action on a new farm bill and simply extending the status quo," says Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Coalition. "We take a very different position. The status quo option might keep agriculture limping along but provides no real solutions to the problems we face."

The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's recommendations include:

  • Enact a comprehensive, cross-cutting new farmer and rancher initiative to provide beginning farmers and ranchers with tools they need to successfully enter farming or ranching
  • Transform the Conservation Security Program to support comprehensive conservation at high levels of natural resource protection on all types of farms and ranches on a nationwide basis
  • Expand the scope and funding of the Value-Added Producers Grant program, including the addition of a new grant component to develop value chains that increase the profitability of mid-sized farms using clear and transparent social, environmental, fair labor and fair trade standards
  • Invest in a new Farm, Food, and Rural Transitions Competitive Grants program to provide mandatory farm bill funding for outcome-based research, education and extension on emerging challenges
  • Create a Rural Entrepreneurs and Micro-Enterprise Program to provide grants to qualified organizations to assist them in developing training, services, and credit for rural micro-enterprises
  • Increase funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and create a new organic transition support program to increase the conversions that will be necessary to meet burgeoning consumer demand for organic food
  • Support a farm bill competition title that helps restore fairness and efficiency to the market by strengthening the Packers and Stockyards Act and the Agricultural Fair Practices Act and establishing of a new USDA Office of Special Counsel for Competition Matters
  • Determine the ecological and economic feasibility of producing energy from a new array of feedstock crops through a new Sustainable Agricultural Energy Innovation Grants Program

In its "farm bill report card" the Coalition gave failing or low grades to officials for their repeated actions to cut and divert the funding promised in the 2002 farm bill to farmers and rural America for conservation, research and rural development.

"Our current commodity production incentive programs subsidize farm consolidation at the expense of mid-sized family farms, raise land prices well beyond market levels, reduce farming opportunities for a new generation of farmers, and encourage over-intensive production resulting in polluted runoff and lost biodiversity," Hoefner says.

The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition this week gave Congress and the Bush administration low marks for implementation of key parts of the 2002 farm bill and issued a comprehensive reform agenda for the upcoming 2007 farm bill.

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