What You Need to Know About the 2018 Farm Bill, and Why You Should Care

October 6, 2016

Every five years, conversation turns to the Farm Bill: that hulking, billion-dollar piece of legislation that governs much of what we eat and grow.

The last one was passed in 2014, and it’s scheduled to expire in 2018. And while two years from now might seem like a long way off, negotiations about such matters can take a while. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the Farm Bill, from why you should care about it to what you can do to make it as healthy and equitable as possible going forward.

What is the Farm Bill?

A nearly $500 billion piece of legislation that governs everything from nutrition assistance programs to crop and disaster insurance to commodity crops. President Barack Obama said “it’s like a Swiss Army Knife”—and he’s right. This one bill essentially covers most of what we eat and grow.

Who does it affect?

Farmers, big and small. Every American, including those who don’t have enough to eat. Food and biotechnology corporations.

What happened with the Farm Bill in 2014?

The 357-page Farm Bill signed into law on February 7, 2014, set aside $489 billion for a variety of areas. The largest area of spending, by far, is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the benefit formerly as food stamps. After long deliberations and threats to separate it from the rest of the Farm Bill, the 2014 bill cut SNAP funding by $8.6 billion over the next 10 years, a move that was condemned by anti-hunger groups. Meanwhile, the bill heavily subsidizes commodity crops like corn and soybeans—a move that mainly benefits mega-farms, leaving small and midsize farms at a competitive disadvantage.

What should we be pushing for in 2018?

Here are four things we’re hoping to see address in the Farm Bill’s next iteration.

1: Restored nutrition assistance

Congress continues to gut nutrition programs like SNAP, with some members pushing a narrative that fraud is rampant and the programs discourage work. (Neither is true, by the way.) Concerned Americans should tell their Congressional representatives to fully fund SNAP in the 2018 Farm Bill, ensuring that the millions of Americans who rely on the program to feed their families will have access to it.

2: More funding for healthy foods

The Farm Bill tends to favor subsidies for commodity crops like corn, soy, rice, and wheat—foods that just don’t make for a very healthy diet on their own. In fact, the farm bill subsidizes these foods at a rate of about eight times that of fruits, vegetable, or nuts.

3: Funding for urban agriculture

We know more about how to effectively grow food in our cities than we ever have, and to feed a growing, increasingly urban population, we’re going to need every urban farm we can get. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has already presented a new urban agriculture bill that she hopes will be incorporated into the 2018 Farm Bill.

4: Racial equality

The Farm Bill provides massive amounts of federal funding for agriculture, but largely benefits mega-corporations. Over time, these companies have taken over nearly half the market with large-scale farms. According to a 2015 report from University of California, Berkeley, the Farm Bill has effectively and systematically pushed out small farmers and minorities.

What can you do?

Call your elected officials and let them know you support healthy, local foods grown without chemicals by small farmers—and you expect them to support this kind of diet in the next farm bill!

Photo credit: Gozha Net via Unsplash

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats, TakePart.com, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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