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Mark Keating's picture

What’s more essential than eating?

One unfortunate misperception helping to sustain the current government shutdown is the assumption that since all “essential” federal employees remain on the job, Washington can meet its “essential” responsibilities. A closer look at USDA’s current capabilities reveals that nothing could be further from the truth and that the shutdown is inflicting immediate and lasting damage.

According to the Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1,423 farmers are waiting for Congress to pass a budget so that they can receive USDA direct farm operating loans that have already been approved for 2013. An additional 2,161 families have deferred their dream of farm ownership as they wait for funding of approved direct farm ownership loans, and an additional 1,005 are waiting on guaranteed ownership loans. No progress can be made on these loans until Congress funds the return of the “non-essential” USDA staffers to complete the paperwork.

Mark Keating's picture

Farm Bill Breakthrough in Washington

Despite the ongoing budget stalemate, Congress took a huge step towards renewing the Farm Bill over the weekend when the House of Representatives agreed to negotiations with the Senate on a  compromise five year package.  Specifically, the House and Senate appointed their respective members to a Conference Committee which will seek to iron out the differences between the Farm Bills each side has already approved.

There is no minimizing the differences between the House and Senate proposals, especially with regard to funding levels and policy provisions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The good news is that, if the SNAP issues can be resolved, there is a viable pathway to agreement on a comprehensive package including desperately needed support for organic, sustainable, local and beginning farmers.  There are clear signs that a majority in both the House and Senate are prepared for significant reforms to the crop insurance and commodity programs at the same time that support for cost-effective organic and alternative initiatives is growing.

Mark Keating's picture

Looking on the Bright Side

There was no Farm Bill at this time a year ago, as Congressional dysfunction led to the legislation’s expiration.  Congress rallied in December 2012 and extended the Farm Bill for nine months, minus nearly $500 million in crucial funding for organic, local and beginning farmers.  The recent budget impasse in Washington shutdown all USDA farm credit and conservation compliance activities and forced the Department to cancel the National Organic Standards Board meeting scheduled for Louisville, KY.

With this history of achievement, it takes a healthy streak of optimism to get fired up about this week’s Congressional negotiations to renew the Farm Bill and pass a 2014 budget.  OFRF and its national network of partner organizations  will stay in the thick of those deliberations, though I personally look forward to a more relaxed atmosphere inspecting organic farms across Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.