COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Farm Bill Conference Committee meets right after Labor Day to hammer out a final version of the legislation, and there's a lot at stake for sustainable food and farm systems.
At the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, policy program coordinator Amalie Lipstreu said the House and Senate versions of the legislation differ on measures that affect food choices, and the health of communities and the environment. For example, she said, the House draft version cuts $1 billion from conservation programs over the next decade. That would mean fewer incentives and resources for farmers who choose sustainable practices.
"Investing in conservation is really important, especially in states like Ohio, where we're dealing with algal blooms in Lake Erie," Lipstreu said. "And the Legislature and many groups have been struggling with how to effectively deal with this ongoing problem for many years."
Lipstreu added the House version also erodes investments in local and regional food businesses and would eliminate funding for organic cost-sharing. The Senate version includes funding for the organic cost-share program, as well as permanent funding for organic agriculture research.
Funding to support beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers would become a permanent part of the Farm Bill under the Senate draft. Lipstreu said this is especially important since nearly 100 million acres of farmland will change hands in the next five years.
"People are interested in starting farms, but getting access to land and credit is a huge barrier for a lot of farmers," she explained. "The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is one of the key ways that we invest in the next generation of farmers."
And while work requirements for food assistance in the House version of the Farm Bill might make it difficult for lawmakers to come to a consensus, Lipstreu is hopeful provisions that protect local and regional food and support sustainable farming prevail.
The 56-member conference committee meets September 5 and includes some Ohioans - Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, and Republican representatives Bob Gibbs and Steve Chabot.