As U.S. Senate drafts Farm Bill, new report shows need for reform in policy to support local food

Legislation introduced by Congresswoman Pingree would break down barriers for small farms and create nearly 190,000 American jobs

By Ramona du Houx - April 24th, 2012 

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A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that current U. S. Department of Agriculture policy is encouraging large-scale farming at the expense of smaller, diversified farmers who raise a variety of crops and animals. The report, “Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future,” recommends a number of reforms that are included in a bill written by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. The release of the report today comes as the Senate Agriculture Committee is taking up a new farm bill to set the nation’s food policy.

“Federal policy isn’t helping the kind of farmers we have here in Maine or in many parts of the country—farmers who might grow a variety of vegetables, raise egg-laying chickens and maybe a few beef cattle,” said Pingree. “Instead, the policy is written to benefit the kind of farmer who might plant thousands of acres of a single crop like corn or soybeans. If we want to make local, healthy food cheaper and more easily available, the policy has to change.”

The report focuses on crop insurance and access to credit for “diversified” farms. Current crop insurance programs are available only to large farms growing “commodity” crops like corn or soybeans. Meanwhile most small-to-midsize farmers are shut out of the crop insurance program. Federal policy also bans farmers who receive crop subsidies from planting fruits and vegetables in most circumstances, further limiting the ability for farmers to grow healthfood for local consumption.

“This change in policy isn’t just good for consumers, it’s good for the economy,” said Pingree. “If we reform the policy and Americans start eating the fruits and vegetables the USDA recommends, local-food sales could increase by nearly $10 billion and create about 190,000 new jobs.”