Last Friday, President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014, more commonly known as the Farm Bill. The House and Senate finally compromised on the Farm Bill, after three years of delays and debates.
The 2014 Farm Bill contains many welcome provisions for Massachusetts and New England farmers. The bill tripled funding for the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program and expands the program to allow grants for direct-to-consumer projects, as well as projects that support local and regional food enterprises through processing, aggregation, distribution, storage and marketing. Massachusetts has the fourth highest number of markets in the country.
The bill reauthorized the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at $20 million annually. This important program develops and offers education, training, outreach, and mentoring programs in order to enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The current average age of the Massachusetts farmer is 54 years old, according to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture.
The Community Food Projects program was funded at $9 million per fiscal year. CFP works to increase food security by promoting communities’ self-reliance to meet their own food needs while increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The program works towards creating innovative solutions that mutually benefit agricultural producers and low-income consumers.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants will now be able to use their benefits to purchase community-supported agriculture shares, which could simultaneously improve access to healthy produce among low-income communities and increase farmers’ local marketing opportunities. There bill also introduces the new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant program, which aims to increase the purchases of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers participating in SNAP. Eligible nonprofits, including agricultural cooperatives, farmers’ markets, and community-supported agricultural programs, can apply for funding for projects that will achieve this goal.
The bill also funds a number of organic programs including the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, which helps offset the costs of annual organic certification for farmers. The bill renewed the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative at $20 million annually, which funds scientific and economic research to improve organic agriculture.
In addition to the agricultural programs, the bill contains disappointing cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, estimated to be $8.6 billion over the next decade. The cuts stem from a provision that allowed states to change the SNAP benefit formula and simplify paperwork with regards to utilities. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the elimination of this provision will impact about 850,000 households.
Overall, the 2014 Farm Bill took important steps to fund programs that are important to the region. The bill will now head to the USDA and go through the rulemaking process, which determines the specifics of how new programs will be implemented.
Barbara Patterson is a second year graduate student in the Agriculture, Food, and Environment Program, at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.