Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

August 31, 2013

Ag Forum: Farm Bill — Get it done

TRAVERSE CITY — It’s hard to believe that we are just one month away from the Farm Bill expiring and yet highly partisan, polarized factions of Congress still have failed to pass a new bill.

With one more week before Congress goes back in session, there’s no better time to contact your representatives to urge passage of a full five-year Farm Bill — one that different types of farms can plan around and that those of us who want to eat good local food can count on.

While a lot of attention centers on aspects of the Farm Bill that are important for larger-scale commodity farmers of crops like corn and soybeans, there also are important measures for smaller, mid- and large-scale growers of what the federal government calls “specialty crops”— the fruits and vegetables health professionals say we all should eat, and which are so important to our local economy.

The bill also is important for the growing number of farmers who want to sell to local markets through neighborhood grocery stores, schools, and hospitals, or through direct sales like farmers markets and community-supported agriculture farms. And it’s important for beginning farmers if we want to have a next generation on the land providing us with food, given that the average age of farmers right now is 57.

That means the bill is important for all of us who love the flavors of our region’s food; appreciate the independence and resilience we are fortunate to have when so much food is available nearby; and want some of the money we spend on food to go toward keeping our own local economy vibrant.

When the House failed to pass the bill last year, an 11th hour extension was hastily negotiated on New Year’s Eve that left stranded 11 important programs with no funding this year. Those programs would have supported farmers markets, economic development around local food, organic and specialty crop research, conservation incentives, and support of beginning farmers.

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