LocalHarvest Newsletter, December 7, 2016
Thoughts on Future Food Policy

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

With the November elections thankfully behind us, there is still a considerable amount of uncertainty moving forward with regards to federal agricultural and food policy. Things will be up in the air for quite some time until a new Secretary of Agriculture is chosen and our Congress takes on the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, the main piece of food and ag legislation set to expire in 2018. Most of the political wrangling for the Farm Bill will start next year so we all should take some time to not only understand what the Farm Bill is and isn't, but also the various ways we can get involved. Regardless of whether we farm or not, as Wendell Berry likes to point out, “eating is an agricultural act”. Our lives all intersect with the food system.

Since food and agricultural policy was discussed very little during the presidential campaigns, it is largely a guess what may happen over the next four years. One concerning issue is there is some talk of separating the food assistance programs from the Farm Bill. Approximately 75% of the last Farm Bill budget went towards nutrition and food assistance programs, including SNAP (i.e. food stamps), senior farmers market vouchers, emergency food assistance, Native American food distribution programs, fresh produce for public schools, and more. Over a quarter of all Americans receive one or more of these benefits. Taking these programs out of the Farm Bill puts them at risk of deep cuts, and will cause the more urbanized states where most of these people reside to be less interested in the negotiations of the Farm Bill. That very well could concentrate the power in farm dominant states, and mean that commodity support might increase at the expense of other more progressive programs. With food assistance programs out of the Farm Bill, they are more likely to face stiff cuts when negotiated and budgeted on their own. The SNAP program, for example, could face cuts of up to $1 trillion dollars over the next decade if House speaker Paul Ryan gets his way. We can't say for sure by how much food assistance will be diminished, but the cuts are coming. The collective impacts could be disastrous on the food security of our nation.

Although president-elect Trump campaigned on promises to not sign the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) and dismantle other international trade agreements, it doesn't look likely that he will actually follow through on his words. Not only is he hiring trade-promoting agricultural commodity lobbyists to manage his agricultural transition, it is obvious that a GOP controlled congress and commodity state control of the Senate and House Ag Committee will engender more trade deals. That is good for large, vertically integrated companies and commodity growers that export a lot, and could be harmful for specialty crop growers that have to compete with ever more less expensive imported produce (see my article in December 2015 for more on that subject). Many in sustainable agriculture don't want to see the US turn off trade, but would like to see trade deals emphasize fair trade principles, such as environmental, worker, and income protections. Will Trump work to change the nature of our trade agreements to include more of those protections? Since he didn't share any of those ideas on the campaign trail, it is probably unlikely.

Labor availability for American farms and food processing is not likely to get any better under the new president. It could actually get a lot worse, which means that not only will food prices increase, but many labor-intensive farms could go out of business or choose to mechanize to a larger extent. Regardless of what you think about immigrant labor, agriculture is going to be hard hit in this aspect and could have devastating consequences on rural economies.

Conservation and research dollars in the Farm Bill may be reduced, which not only could impact some of the great environmental gains we have made in agriculture (reducing soil erosion by 44% in the last 20 years for example), it will also reduce the research and development money that helps make American agriculture a leader in innovation.

This is what I know. We need more diversified family farmers around the country making a decent living, we need access to more affordable farmland for those that want to farm, we need competitive markets, we need a reasonable regulatory environment that takes scale into consideration, we need a safe and sane agricultural labor policy, we need fair trade policies that allow our country to enact rules that protect our people and environment, and we need conservation and research dollars going towards improving the resiliency of our agricultural systems. I urge you to get involved in the negotiations for the Farm Bill next year by first reaching out to your congressional representatives. Also consider joining the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a broad coalition of over 100 member organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture.

P.S. Because of the subject of this article, we ask that you refrain from commenting on who won or didn't win the presidential election and instead focus on agricultural policy. We look forward to hearing an engaged and respectful dialogue.


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From the LH Store

One aspect I miss of living in Northern California was the preponderance of persimmon trees dotting people’s yards. In the fall their leaves are beacons of color in a changing landscape- deep reds, oranges, and splotches of yellow. Once the leaves fall, persimmon trees seem to be made for the holidays. Completely naked except for halos of orange fruit hanging like ornaments all over the tree. Persimmons are divided into two major kinds- the ones that you eat when hard and crunchy (often labeled Fuyu) and the varieties that you eat when completely ripened and soft (such as Japanese Hachiya). There are native American and Texan varieties as well that have smaller fruit the size of plums. You can usually find persimmons at farmers markets during the late fall or we have several farmers selling via the LocalHarvest store. Check them out for some delicious fruit.

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