In a live interview on Instagram, Aubrey Bettencourt -- the director of the California Almond Alliance, a 4th generation farmer, water expert, and self-proclaimed political animal -- gave us a 101 on the Farm Bill and where we are for its renewal by September 2023.
Aubrey crammed more information into every sentence than most people do in a week, so I thought I would review it for myself and share the highlights with you here.
If you would like to see the conversation for yourself, you can find it on my subscriber's page. You can access it from my Instagram profile page here. Just hit subscribe and you'll see the interview and some meaty stuff with ranchers Glenn Elzinga of Alderspring Ranch and Jennie Becker of Stick Leg Ranch. More meaty content lands there each week!!
For another stellar interview with Aubrey, check out this episode of Talk Farm to Me where Aubrey fills you in on water conservation in ways you never thought possible. And there's also a bonus episode (shorter) about supply chain issues and shipping. She'd like to talk about this more sometime. And pollinators. All passions!
Macro on Farm Bill
It happens every 5 years and funds everything that the USDA does and is up for renewal this year
USDA -- fun fact -- it's the only department that can draw on the Treasury without congressional approval (not DOD, not the President); FDR enacted this to maintain continuity during times of need
Titles of the Farm Bill Overview
Commodity Chapter (Title 1) -- safety net programs, disasters, non-insurable crop protection program (this is underutilized and could really help more farmers)
Aubrey is fascinated that some farmers are anti-insurance
Young almond trees are not insurable btw and she's trying to fix that
Conservation Chapter (Title 2) -- NRCS programs, Environmental Quality xxx Program, used for soil, partnerships,
Trade Chapter (Title 3) -- trade and supply chain and market access, emerging markets, USDA's job is to get American
Nutrition Chapter (Title 4) -- Food boxes and food assistance (over 80% of the Farm Bill), opportunity for commodities and other products to play in this space that is underutilized; section 32 (a lot of hoops) where USDA will buy products to help crop markets with their sales. Charity to sub-Saharan Africa comes from a buy of products for distro. Also DOD. Looking to move American products to help farmers.
What about small farmers?
Ebbs and flows with politics. Traditional (corn wheat soy rice sorghum) commodities -- most of Farm Bill. Shift to focus on small farmers is in the nitty gritty details where there are limitations to keep bigger players from gaming the system.
$900K in adjusted gross income is one of the thresholds for small farmers in some programs. Sounds big but out west it's actually pretty small. Eek.
How do small farmers get better reps in Washington when some alliances have advocates there?
Government is business. It can be a little seedy. But it's what we've got and we have to understand it and know how to make it work for us.
It's important for small farmers to be engaged and plugged in. Call your congressional representative. They should know your name. Position yourself as an expert with them. Advice: Ask the staffer or representative HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM!! If they don't know better, it's because you didn't tell them
Talk to your trade association and make sure they know what you need to succeed.
What to watch as the Farm Bill develops?
Lots of meetings and behind-the-scenes field hearings.
It is behind because of the election.
87 field hearings need to happen before September.
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D -- CA) -- going to retire, and is the Chair of the Senate Ag Committee, said "Let's do a Farm Bill!"
Her counterpart, John Boozman (R - AZ) said they will be leaving the climate chapter in, some of that was included in the Inflation Reduction Act and he says they're not going to pull it back
Representative Glenn Thompson (R -- PA) chair of the House Ag Committee, he is driving the process
Hotly contested components?
The media is going to talk about climate smart ag (yelling and screaming and headlines and click bait)
But what actually is going to be hot behind the scenes is the budget part (a lot of trading this for that).
She expects there to be yelling matches over SNAP needing to be reigned in
Keep an eye on the climate piece because Republicans stated that they aren't going to pull that part back. This means there are opportunities here for farmers to get creative.
Specifically, they will be working on and negotiating the definitions of climate safe practices and how they are calculated and accounted for
Tactically -- she will be playing hard on nutrition, conservation (water) and pollinators (all really important for almonds) and trade (as in more funds for developing more markets bc it hasn't had a budget increase in a long time)
Nutrition, Climate-smart, Trade, Renewable Energy, and AGI payment limitations (the small stuff that can have a big impact on smaller growers) and insurance (which also makes a big difference to small farmers on the ground)
OMG, you should really watch this chat (about 30 mins) and then you can find out why bees are considered FISH in California. SMH!
Keep your eye on the Farm Bill ball! xo, Farm Girl
Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with mini-grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of the Talk Farm to Me podcast featuring farmers and farm issue experts from across the country. She authors a weekly letter in addition to this blog. You can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram and Threads.