By Penny McBride
Once again Congress is preparing to take on the US Farm Bill, which is a billion dollar web of agriculture subsidies, welfare payments and environmental support.
One of the goals of the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) is to build political consensus around food and agriculture policy that has the potential to impact our members. This year’s 2017 Summit, taking place in Washington DC September 22 and 23, will address segments of the Farm Bill and help AVF Members negotiate these often confusing waters.
Typically the Farm Bill is renewed every 5 years; the last farm bill that expired at the end of 2012 was not renewed until the end of 2014. The next round is scheduled to be on the table in 2018. The hope is that this will be a true bi-partisan bill.
Directly related to the Farm Bill is the Urban Agriculture Act, being introduced by Senator Stabenow of Michigan. This contains ideas and provisions intended to be incorporated into the 2018 Farm Bill. Known as Marker Legislation, because it provides an opportunity to highlight priories and ideas that get written into a future bill, the Urban Agriculture Act is particularly important to follow because of its ability to impact the upcoming Farm Bill. For the first time ever, this Farm Bill could address the unique needs of urban farmers by investing new resources and increasing flexibility through existing programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Here is a summary of the potential areas of impact:
Creating New Economic Opportunities
• Agriculture Cooperatives: Expands USDA authority to support farm cooperatives in urban areas, helping urban farmers who want to form and operate an agriculture cooperative get products to market. Reduces individual financial risk and burdensome paperwork by allowing USDA loans to be managed by agriculture cooperatives.
• Rooftops, Vertical Farms & Indoor Production: Makes it easier for urban farms to apply for USDA farm programs and assists producers with information on operating rooftop and vertical farms. Supports access to land and production sites in urban communities through innovative conservation grants.
• Cutting-Edge Research: Invests $10 million for cutting-edge research to explore market opportunities for urban agriculture and develop new technologies for lowering energy and water needs. Includes national data collection and a new urban agriculture section in the Local and Regional Foods market report.
Providing New Financial Tools & Support
• Loans: Expands existing USDA farm loan programs so urban farmers can cover new farm related activities that improve their business. Now urban farmers can use farm loans to finance food production, marketing, and value-added processing.
• Risk Management Tools: Provides a new affordable risk management tool for urban farmers to protect against crop losses, taking into account the risks, food prices and contracts unique to urban farms.
• New Urban Ag Office: Creates a new urban agriculture office at USDA to coordinate urban agriculture policies across the Department and provide urban farmers with technical assistance.
• Mentorship and Education: Connects urban farmers with rural farmers to provide education and mentorship support.
Increasing Access to Healthy Foods
• Healthy Food: Creates a new pilot program that provides incentives to urban farmers who use sustainable growing practices and commit to supplying healthy food to their neighbors, connecting urban farms with families who need greater access to healthy, local foods.
Creating a Healthier Environment
• Urban Composting: Creates a pilot program to provide urban farmers access to compost while reducing food waste that would otherwise go into landfills.
A new AVF partner is the lobby firm VH Strategies. VH Strategies is a bipartisan government affairs and consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. with offices in The Hague and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. VH Strategies has initiated the Urban Agriculture Coalition, an alliance of individuals, institutions, and companies working to promote change in food and farm policy at the federal, state, and local level.
VH Strategies will be one of many amazing speakers at the upcoming AVF Summit along with agricultural scientist and director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy. Speakers will be addressing important topics at this pivotal moment in time.
We hope you will join us in DC for a great event!
By Penny McBride, agritecture.com