PROVIDENCE, RI -- The U.S. Farm Bill has a big impact on Rhode Island and the livelihoods of farmers, producers, food industry workers, and residents who receive supplemental nutrition assistance.  Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed hosted a Farm Bill roundtable with the Rhode Island Food Policy Council (RIFPC) for local stakeholders at Farm Fresh Rhode Island to listen and learn more about what Rhode Islanders want in the 2023 version of the federal legislation.

Last authorized for five years in 2018 as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-334), the 2018 Farm Bill authorized hundreds of billions of dollars for a broad range of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs.  The current law is set to expire on September 30, 2023, and Congress is beginning the process of drafting a new five-year Farm Bill.

“Farming is so important to Rhode Island’s economy, heritage, environment, and our way of life.  The Farm Bill has a huge impact on people’s lives.  This is an opportunity for me to hear directly from Rhode Islanders and take their priorities and ideas to Congress to ensure they are heard at the highest levels and incorporated into the new Farm Bill,” said Senator Reed.  “We must ensure the Farm Bill is cost-effective, transparent, helps family farms, and enhances nutrition assistance.  Today’s roundtable was a chance to roll up our sleeves and dig into some key issues impacting Rhode Island farmers and communities. I heard a lot of good ideas about how we can continue to support conservation, farming and farmland preservation, aquaculture, our local producers, and other Rhode Island interests as Congress develops this new bill.”

Administered by the USDA, the Farm Bill is a package of agriculture and nutrition-related policies that makes critical investments nationwide in infrastructure, economic development, workforce training, nutrition, conservation, and more.  

In Rhode Island, the Farm Bill plays a major role in ensuring low-income individuals have access to nutrition through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Currently, about 85,000 households in Rhode Island receive monthly SNAP assistance to purchase groceries.  Last year, Rhode Island received $425.23 million in federal SNAP benefits (including temporary pandemic relief).

Reed noted that a divided Congress could make passing the Farm Bill, which is usually a bipartisan endeavor, more of a challenge this year.  But Senator Reed says he is optimistic lawmakers can come together for the good of their states and the nation.

“With Republican control in the House of Representatives and such a narrow majority in the Senate, the reality is that on some traditionally bipartisan programs, there is likely to be more resistance.  It is going to take a lot of effort to simply hold the line on what we have today.  But I am optimistic we can get people to work together.  We have to get it done because these programs are so critical to people here in Rhode Island and every other state.  Whether it is SNAP assistance, conservation initiatives, renewable energy deployment, support for new farmers and ranchers, or drought assistance, these programs are essential and I will be working across the aisle to include them in the final package.”

If a new Farm Bill is not passed, the 2018 Farm Bill would expire October 1.  Senator Reed says he hope it doesn’t come to that and is urging Congress to move forward with urgency on a bipartisan basis.

“The Farm bill is about ensuring our farmers can raise the food we need and that no one in this great country is forced to go hungry.  Farmers care deeply about the environment and water, soil, and land conservation.  Congress should listen to them.  That is what I am here to do and I am going to bring these messages back to Washington, DC to ensure we pass a bipartisan Farm bill that is good for families, farmers, producers, and our communities.”

Leaders from several Rhode Island agriculture, nutrition, and conservation groups attended Friday’s roundtable, including representatives from: USDA; Farm Service Agency (FSA); Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Rhode Island Farm Bureau; Bami Farm; Sweet and Salty Farm; East Coast Shellfish Growers; Northern RI Conservation District; RI Association of Conservation Districts; Southern RI Conservation District; Young Farmer Network; and the RI Community Food Bank.