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An Urgent Plea to Our Legislators

November 15, 2011, 1:11 pm

Here is a letter Oryana and many other like-minded organizations sent to Dave Camp and Fred Upton of the deficit-cutting Supercommittee, a plea to consider some critical issues for the Farm Bill. Will they pay attention? Will they even read it? We will know soon enough.

November 14, 2011

The Honorable Dave Camp
The Honorable Fred Upton
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representatives Camp and Upton:

We the undersigned 19 farm and food organizations from Michigan are writing to urge you, as a
member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, to take a leadership role by modifying the
farm bill proposal you will receive very soon from the chairs and ranking members of the House and
Senate Agriculture Committees. Enough has surfaced about that package to believe that while it
certainly has some important positive features helpful to Michigan, thanks in large measure to Senator
Stabenow’s efforts, it remains seriously flawed in several fundamental ways. We implore you to help
set it right.

As you know, the farm bill normally is a year or year and a half long process fashioned through
extensive hearings, markups, and floor consideration. Due to the unique process being used this year to
potentially pre-exempt normal consideration of the bill in 2012, your current consideration of the farm
bill as a Joint Select Committee is the one and only opportunity to amend and revise the five-year farm
bill proposal sent to you. Thus it rests in the Joint Select Committee’s hands, and your collective hands
alone, to rectify the major problems with the bill that will be sent to you for your consideration.
In our view, the farm bill – which is the primary federal policy mechanism to establish this country’s
food policy and also plays a major role in the nation’s conservation policy and rural development
efforts – is extremely important legislation that would benefit from more complete and more public
consideration. We recognize, however, that the major decisions on farm and food policy for the next
five years must be set by you and the other eleven Joint Select Committee members in the course of
just the next five days. Hence we have joined together at this critical moment to provide you with our
top recommendations for the needed fixes to the proposed farm bill, based on our best available
information.

First, we urge you to amend the farm bill to place real caps on the amount of taxpayer-provided
production subsidies any one farm can receive on an annual basis
. Sadly, based on the best
information we have, the bill being sent to you does not do that. It leaves in place current loopholes
that allow the nation’s largest farms to collect hundreds of thousands and in some cases even millions
of dollars a year in subsidies. The bill being sent to you does reportedly include an “adjusted gross
income” eligibility measure that would prevent individuals with adjusted gross income of over $1
million ($2 million for married couples) from qualifying, but this measure, while supportable, is largely
ineffective. We need actual limits on actual payments and they need to apply to all program crops,
without exception. We urge you to include the language sent to the Joint Select Committee by Senators
Grassley and Johnson. Their proposal to set hard caps, with no loopholes, is good for family farmers,
is good public policy, and saves real dollars that can be reinvested in local farm and food and beginning
farmer programs. Without the Grassley-Johnson language, there is no reform of the out-of-control
subsidy system, period, regardless of any other bells and whistles the bill’s promoters may point to in
an attempt to convince you and the public they have provided a measure of reform.

Second, we urge you to include the important policies from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher
Opportunity Act and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act which are not included in the bill that
will be presented to you.
We are thankful that Senator Stabenow was able to include a few pieces of
these two important farm bill “marker” bills, but we cannot stress enough that this is the farm bill, our
only chance in the next five years to enact reforms to support the next generation of American farmers
and to foster job-creating local farm and food efforts. There is real opportunity in agriculture today,
and we believe it is possible to assure a next generation of farmers and also to create greater rural
prosperity and improve access to healthy food, but only if we act with the smart policies incorporated
in these two bills, introduced by Representative Jeff Fortenberry and Chellie Pingree, respectively.
Michigan agriculture would benefit enormously by the adoption of these two bills by the Joint Select
Committee. We therefore urge you to add these two critical bills to the farm bill section of your overall
package. Failure to act would mean no progress on these critical issues until the 2017 Farm Bill. If we
want to improve economic opportunity and job creation in the food and agricultural sector in Michigan
and around the country, we cannot wait. The task has fallen to you and we urge you to take up the
charge.

Third, we urge you to amend the farm bill to require all farms receiving commodity or crop
insurance taxpayer-provided subsidies to comply with soil erosion and wetland protection
requirement
s. Forcing the taxpayer to subsidize the destruction of the basis of our long-term food
security – the soil -- and the draining of ecologically-critical wetlands is indefensible. Yet, according to
our best information, the bill to be presented to you does not tie “conservation compliance”
requirements to crop insurance nor does it apply conservation compliance to all of the land that is
eroding at unsustainable rates within the commodity subsidy program. Adding insult to injury, the bill
presented to you reportedly also does not end commodity and crop insurance subsidies to those who
would destroy native grasslands for the purpose of bringing them into crop production at public
expense. The so-called “sodsaver” protection should be added to the bill to ensure the taxpayer is not
being forced to subsidize the destruction of our remaining native grasslands. Adding “conservation
compliance” and “sodsaver” to both the commodity and crop insurance titles of the farm bill is a
simple, straightforward fix that will help protect the environment and our future food security.

Finally, we urge you to resist any attempts to increase the size of the proposed cuts to
conservation, nutrition and organic programs.
Farm conservation support has been cut
disproportionately relative to production subsidies. We do not believe that is fair, and want to be sure
the cuts are not deepened. We also do not believe food assistance for low-income people should be cut
and certainly should not be cut any more than proposed by the Agriculture Committee leaders.

Finally, please ensure that funding for organic farming research, certification assistance, and other organic programs authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill is maintained.

Thank you for your careful consideration of our views. We hope to be in direct dialogue with your
office on these urgent matters in the next few days.
 

Sincerely,

Michigan Land Trustees
Michigan Environmental Council
Michigan Organic Food and Farming Association
Michigan Land Use Institute
Beginning Farmers
Michigan Young Farmers Coalition
Food System Economic Partnership
Fair Food Matters
Four Seasons Produce Cooperative
Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design
NW Michigan Agriculture & Food Sector Alliance
Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network
Oryana Natural Foods Market, Traverse City
People's Food Co-op, Kalamazoo
Ypsilanti Food Coop
Ecology Center
Growing Hope
Lansing Urban Farm Project
Eastern Market

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