Senate Democrats are working hard to provide rural America and the entire country with sound agricultural, nutrition, and environmental policies. The Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 makes significant investments in America’s rural communities by improving its ability to produce food, feed, fiber and fuel while supporting efforts to improve its water, air, and wildlife habitat. The Farm Bill also includes modest reforms of producer income protection programs and expands the development and use of farm-based renewable energy.
The Farm Bill is good for farmers because it provides:
- An extension of the farm safety net for five years until 2012.
- Financial certainty as rural America enters the upcoming planting season.
- Investments of more than $2 billion in specialty crops many of which are fruits and vegetables. These new investments are important because only one in five Americans consume the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Over $5 billion in permanent disaster assistance through the creation of the Agricultural Disaster Relief Trust Fund. The disaster assistance Trust Fund will ensure that farmers have a dependable and timely safety net when disasters strike rather than having to wait for Congress to appropriate emergency funding after the fact.
The Farm Bill is good for low-income families and children because it provides:
- A cost of living adjustment for food stamp (now called the Food and Nutrition Program) recipients to end the program’s benefit erosion. This is important because since 2000 the number of Americans living in poverty has increased, from 31.5 million (11.3 percent) in 2000 and 36.4 million (12.3 percent) in 2006.
- An expanded fruit and vegetable program that is targeted to low-income children in every state of the country. The current fresh fruit and vegetable programs are widely popular and successful but only available to a handful of school districts in very few states. The Farm Bill would expand the program into every state by investing more than $1.1 billion and, as a result, help prevent diet-related chronic diseases in children.
- Support for food banks and community food providers through an additional $110 million annually in mandatory commodity purchases that will be distributed to low-income households.
The Farm Bill is good for the environment because it provides:
- The annual enrollment of 13.2 million acres into the Conservation Stewardship Program. The Conservation Stewardship Program will allow all agricultural producers, including livestock and specialty crop producers, the opportunity to achieve high levels of conservation on their soil and water resources.
- A reauthorization of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) at $1.27 billion in 2008 and 2009, and $1.3 billion thereafter. The reauthorization of EQIP provides voluntary contracts to agricultural producers with a particular focus on livestock production, and the new Farm Bill would strengthen the program’s assistance on forest management, fuels management, and pollinator (bees) habitat protection.
- The protection of valuable wetland areas by reauthorizing the Wetlands Reserve Program to enroll 250,000 acres per year through 2012. The protection and restoration of wetlands are important because wetlands simultaneously protect wildlife habitat, defend against catastrophic flooding, and improve water quality by filtering out pollutants like nitrogen.
- A continuation of the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program that partners with the federal government, state, regional, and national fish and wildlife conservation plans.
The Farm Bill includes modest reforms of producer income protection programs by:
- Eliminating the “three entity rule,” which has been used by agricultural producers to exceed the statutory limits on payments by splitting their operations into multiple pieces and allowing each piece to draw farm payments.
- Improving transparency through direct attribution of payments to an actual agricultural producer.
- Lowering the adjusted gross income (AGI) limit for commodity programs from the current level of $2.5 million to $1 million in 2009 and $750,000 for 2010 and subsequent years.
The Farm Bill promotes renewable fuels by competively awarding:
- $300 million for grants and loan guarantees for biofuel refineries. The grants may cover up to 50 percent of the projects eligible costs while the loan guarantees may cover up to 80 percent of project costs.
- $230 million for grants and loan guarantees for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to help fund energy efficiency improvements or install renewable energy capacity. The purpose of these grants and loan guarantees is to help expand the use of renewable energy and promote energy efficiency by state agencies; regional, state-based or tribal energy organizations; universities; rural electric cooperatives; and public power entities.
- $160 million in grants to assist farmers to begin to produce, harvest, and deliver biomass crops to biorefineries and other biomass user facilities.