WASHINGTON, DC – As President Trump’s trade policies continue to negatively impact American farmers, the U.S. Senate today voted 87-13 to adopt the Agriculture and Nutrition Act (Farm Bill) to help small farms, farmers markets, and local food production, and conservation efforts. The bipartisan Farm Bill was negotiated in a House-Senate conference and now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives, where it is also expected to pass with strong support.
After successfully advocating for provisions to keep nutritious food on the table for Rhode Islanders, U.S. Senator Jack Reed supported the five-year Farm Bill reauthorization.
The bill will help expand crop insurance access to shellfish growers, and better protect the nation’s food supply. It will also help provide healthy food for families in need, boost local food economies, and allow farmers across the U.S. to begin cultivating industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity.
“A healthy agricultural sector is vital to public health, environmental health, and the health of our economy. This bill isn’t perfect, but it supports family farmers and will keep small farms like the ones we have in Rhode Island viable and able to compete with giant, multi-national agribusinesses. It also promotes diverse and quality food production and land management, will help feed hungry families, and grow Rhode Island’s local food economy,” said Senator Reed.
Highlights of the 2018 Farm Bill include:
• Protects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for Rhode Island families facing food insecurity by rejecting funding cuts as well as harmful changes from the House Farm Bill that would have created unnecessary obstacles for those in need of food and nutrition assistance. SNAP is a critical lifeline for more than 150,000 Rhode Islanders. The bill includes job training opportunities to help SNAP participants find and keep good-paying jobs. And provisions to strengthen oversight of SNAP will help ensure every dollar goes to families in need.
• Creates improved dairy coverage options at more affordable rates for Rhode Island dairy farmers by maintaining refunds of previously-paid Margin Protection Program (MPP) premiums as either a 75% credit or 50% refund and making major improvements to affordable risk protection for small and medium dairy operations.
• Supports farmers markets and food hubs that help family farmers and local businesses sell locally grown food and made-in-Rhode Island products to families, schools, and restaurants, driving the local food economy.
• Secures permanent mandatory baseline funding for food/nutrition programs important to Rhode Island. These include programs that support farmers markets and local food systems, beginning farmers, organic farming research, and Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants. Rhode Island currently has two FINI grants, which enable Farm Fresh RI and the RI Public Health Institute to manage SNAP bonus programs at Farmers Markets and Mobile Markets.
• Continues Specialty Crop Block Grants, which boost Rhode Island’s diverse fruit and vegetable industry, increases productivity, and drives demand for the food they grow.
• Continues support for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
• Promotes Rhode Island aquaculture by directing the USDA to make improvements to Whole Farm Insurance for aquaculture, which would provide the shellfish growers with the certainty needed to expand their businesses.
• Promotes urban agriculture which will play an increasingly important role in the state’s agricultural economy.
• Contains no environmental riders – the House Farm bill was full of harmful environmental riders to gut environmental safeguards from the Clean Water Rule to the Endangered Species Act. These were not included in the conference report.
• Preserves strong funding for land and water conservation programs.
• Promotes soil health, cover crops, carbon sequestration, and other climate smart agriculture.
• Creates a new produce prescription program with mandatory funding to allow health care providers to help their low-income patients build healthier diets and access more fruits and vegetables. Farm Fresh RI has already piloted a similar program with the Thundermist Health Center that provided “prescription tokens” for children to buy fruits and vegetables at a farmers market on site. The program was found to positively impact the children and also helped local farmers find customers for their products.
• Reauthorizes the National Oilheat Research Alliance for ten years.
• Supports clean energy and efficiency upgrades to help small businesses and farmers invest in wind and solar technologies that lower utility bills and support energy installation jobs across the Ocean State.
• Strengthens support for organic agriculture to protect the integrity of certified organic products and helps farmers transition into a fast-growing sector of agriculture.
• Creates a new national vaccine bank to better protect livestock and poultry from disease outbreaks.
• Expands conservation support to help farmers protect water quality and reduce nutrient runoff into the rivers and streams like those that feed into Narragansett Bay, while maintaining productive and profitable farmland.
The Farm Bill must now be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives before it can be sent to the President and signed into law.