On June 21, backed by Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, the U.S. Senate adopted its version of the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 3240), better known as the Farm Bill, including several provisions supported by Environment Virginia that will give local, clean farms a boost.
“Current farm programs and incentives are skewed toward corporate agribusinesses that place a heavy—and growing—toll on the environment and public health,” said Environment Virginia’s Priscilla Lin.
“The amendments added to the Farm Bill begin to shift the balance by protecting organic farmers, expanding Farm-to-School programs, and supporting farmers markets.”
The Farmers Market Promotion Program provides grants to help bolster farmer’s markets, roadside stands, community supported agriculture, agri-tourism, and other direct producer-to-consumer marketing channels. Under the Senate’s farm bill, the program is renamed the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and will expand to also support larger scale, local food sales to institutions. The Senate farm bill allocates $20 million in annual mandatory funding, double the present amount.
“Environment Virginia applauds Senate leaders for first responding to the growing interest and demand for locally and responsibly produced food by expanding this program, and secondly successfully blocking Senator Saxby Chambliss’ amendment to eliminate funding for this program. This means more opportunities for fresh and healthy food for not just Virginia but for the entire nation,” said Lin.
Environment Virginia is also pleased to report that Senator Toomey’s amendment to eliminate the organic cost-share assistance program was defeated during the Senate debate, and both Senators Warner and Webb voted against the amendment.
With over 100 certified organic farms, organic farming is one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in Virginia. Through this cost-share assistance program, organic farmers seeking national organic certification can receive help with paying high certification costs each year. This program encourages new entries into the certified organic market while maintaining organic certification as a gateway to the market when farmers expand beyond direct sales.
Senators Warner and Webb also supported Ron Wyden’s Farm-to-School amendment and Senator Merkley’s organic crop insurance amendment. The Wyden amendment establishes farm-to-school demonstration projects that will allow schools across the nation to locate and purchase fresh, local produce from farmers more easily. The Merkley amendment improves accessibility and fairness of crops insurance for organic farmers, allowing them to receive organic crop prices rather than less.
“We thank Senators Warner and Webb for standing with Environment Virginia on a number of local food provisions and amendments to promote a healthier Virginia and America. Next, we turn our attention to the House as they prepare consideration of their version of the farm bill. We will continue to advocate for more local and sustainable food provisions in the Farm Bill. We also urge House leaders to move forward on their consideration,” said Lin.
The House of Representatives is slated to consider their version of the 2012 Farm Bill after the July 4 recess.