What do corn subsidies, school lunches and water conservation all have in common? They are all part of the Farm Bill.
Since 1973, Congress has passed a bill about every five years commonly known as the “Farm Bill,” because it deals with food production, food safety, agricultural trade, food assistance and environmental concerns. Because of changing worldwide food needs, developments in technology and crop production, and changes in federal administration, the Farm Bill is under constant review, and many groups offer input on what should be included.
The very first Farm Bill, passed in 1933, was designed to help struggling farmers during the Great Depression, but since then, has become much more encompassing.
“The Farm Bill is bigger than just the people who work in agriculture,” said Kent Schescke, director of strategic partnerships for the National FFA Organization.
“Two-thirds of the money that’s spent in the Farm Bill has nothing to do with farming,” Schescke says, “It’s all about the food system and food assistance programs.”
In fact, nearly 70 percent of the monies in the 2008 Farm Bill focused on nutrition, with the remainder going to commodity support, conservation and crop insurance. In all, the 2008 Farm Bill projected a total of $284 billion spent, which might seem like a large sum but is in fact, less than one percent of the overall federal budget.
Since the 2008 Farm Bill, new attention and focus has been placed on nutrition and healthy eating, which should influence the next bill. In February of 2008, First Lady Michelle Obama launched her “Let’s Move!” initiative, and in June 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture dropped the “Food Guide Pyramid” and introduced the new “My Plate” nutrition guide.
The 2012 Farm Bill is already in the works in the House Committee on Agriculture and numerous parties, from farmers to foodies to environmentalists, are making sure their views are represented.
In June and July 2011, six subcommittees conducted audit hearings, the first step in the process of writing the 2012 Farm Bill, to evaluate the current programs.
Eventually, the House Committee on Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture will draft their own independent reports and present them to Congress.
These reports are the product of months of research and countless presentations from agriculture and food groups.
For the first time, the National FFA Organization will be one of those groups, sharing the opinions of its 500,000 members with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The upcoming Farm Bill will set the groundwork for where agriculture policy is going.”
The Secretary’s Challenge
In January 2011, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met with the National FFA Foundation Sponsors Board, and in the middle of his speech, he turned his attention to the National FFA Officer Team and began speaking directly to them.
“He said, ‘I have a challenge for you,’” Schescke recalls, “‘The upcoming Farm Bill will set the groundwork for where agriculture policy is going. I challenge you to bring forward the thoughts of the half-million FFA members.”
Vilsack promised the national officers that he would allow them to present FFA’s views to his office and help shape the recommendations they send to Congress.
Since then, the national FFA officers and National FFA staff have been developing the “Secretary’s Challenge.”
“We’ve created a way for every FFA member to voice their opinion on the 2012 Farm Bill,” says Christine White, national FFA educational programs operations team leader.
Attendees at this summer’s State Presidents’ Conference and New Century Farmer Program participated in small group discussions about Farm Bill issues and drafted their own recommendations.
Similar small group discussions are being planned for the national FFA convention.
Since not all FFA members are able to attend these events, there will also be an online component.
“We have taken some of the basic information about what the Farm Bill is and we’ve created an e-learning module,” White says.
After completing the e-learning portion, students can apply their knowledge by interacting with other members in a discussion board.
White said that National FFA will compile all the feedback they receive from members, both in small groups and online, so that the national FFA officers can easily share it with Vilsack’s office.
“This is an opportunity for students to voice their thoughts and really influence legislation towards agriculture,” White says.
– Celeste Laurent Harned