Agriculture is a critical part of Oregon’s economy. From berries to beef, family farmers and ranchers are feeding Americans and millions of people around the world. At the same time, farmers are facing new and increasing pressures from climate change, urban sprawl, rising costs and shrinking water resources. Congressman Blumenauer has long believed that current agricultural policy spends too much money supporting large corporations, doesn’t adequately help the majority of small and midsize farmers, and subsidizes manufactured food at the expense of fruits and vegetables.
Gearing Up for the Next Farm Bill
Blumenauer believes that the Farm Bill is the most important bill that most Americans have never heard of. It impacts our economy, environment, and what we eat. Blumenauer has already started thinking about how to make the next Farm Bill more visionary, equitable, and cost effective with his “Sing Your Own Farm Bill” project.
Reduce spending and focus resources on those who need it
Many current Farm Bill programs pay too much for people to grow the wrong crops in the wrong places and usually at the wrong time. This comes from generations of special interests and big agri-business negotiating for federal handouts, while the rest must settle for crumbs.
Blumenauer wants to focus resources on small and mid-sized, beginning, minority, and disadvantaged farmers, and invest in infrastructure to help them thrive.The average American farmer is 57 years old – as this generation retires, we need a younger population of well-trained farmers and ranchers to step up and take the helm of the country’s food production. But the biggest challenge for most beginning and small farmers, in addition to education, is access to capital and land. We should be facilitating new, low-income, and minority farmer access to a variety of federal programs, ensuring that they get the technical assistance they need to help them thrive, and streamlining their access to loan funding.
The U.S. is one of the world’s biggest producers and consumers of agricultural commodities, and its long-term agricultural productivity and success relies on innovation through research. The discoveries that have come about because of federally-funded research are some of the biggest drivers for increasing agricultural production, and benefit farmers across the country. Blumenauer wants to think beyond traditional areas such as crop research and conservation and expand federal policy to include supporting research into crop resiliency and the impacts of climate change on agriculture. In addition, Blumenauer wants to prioritize and increase critical funding for research for specialty crops, organics, and beginning farmers.
Encourage sound conservation practices and outcomes
Blumenauer believes that we must support practices that lead to the long-term sustainability of farmland and protect the environment. Currently nearly 40 percent of conservation program funds go to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) for waste storage facilities and irrigation equipment installation. In 2014, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, including factory farms, accounted for approximately 9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Blumenauer wants to make sure that conservation funding is used to maximize environmental benefit, prioritizing biodiversity, water quality and quantity, climate change preparedness, and carbon pollution reduction.
Ensure access to healthy foods
Across America, there is an epidemic of hunger and poor nutrition. Many families can’t afford to put healthy foods on their tables: during 2014, an estimated 14 percent of American households experienced food insecurity at some point, and in Oregon, approximately 800,000 people (1 in 5) receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Locally and regionally, food distribution works hand-in-hand with community-led efforts to reduce hunger and provide affordable food needed for good nutrition, especially in communities underserved by retail food stores. Growing, processing, and distributing some of these foods locally and regionally will create profitable markets for many small and mid-sized independent farmers and ranchers, help to preserve farmland, and protect the environment with reduced transportation costs and more sustainable farming practices. Congressman Blumenauer is a strong advocate for strengthened and expanded nutrition programs that promote the availability and affordability of healthy and fresh foods and increases fruits and vegetables in school meals. In addition, he supports removing barriers that keep local farmers from selling products into schools and other institutions, as well as new programs to increase the supply and availability of locally and regionally produced foods in the marketplace, particularly in underserved communities.
In 2013, Blumenauer introduced the Balancing Food, Farm, and Environment Act to modernize the Farm Bill’s conservation effort. This bill would bolster opportunities and funding to farmers to keep our water clean, our soil healthy, and help our wildlife thrive, while ensuring that people have access to affordable, responsibly-raised food. Some of the policies in the Balancing Act were included in the 2014 Farm Bill, but not enough, and the overall bill fell short of truly reforming conservation policy.