Where the US Stands on Federal Food Waste Policy

Originally published by Waste Dive on June 27, 2018. Written by Cole Rosengren.

While it may have been overshadowed by recycling commodity issues, and other big shifts in federal environmental policy, food waste is still on the agenda in Washington, D.C. and gaining momentum.

That has been one of the key messages so far at this year’s U.S. Food Waste Summit—hosted by the Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic (HFLPC) and ReFED in Cambridge, Massachusetts—among participants from business, government, philanthropic organizations and other sectors. Some of the more than 350 attendees even traveled internationally, with a wait list and livestream available for overflow.

Much of the work that’s happening is being driven by the private sector, or state and local government, but activity is also ongoing nationally. One June 26 panel discussion highlighted some of the key areas to watch for the rest of 2018.

The Farm Bill:

The biannual farm bill is seen as a catch-all opportunity for any type of agricultural issues. This time around, advocates are looking to make sure that food waste is a bigger part of that discussion. While the latest version already doesn’t have everything they’d hoped for, the work continues to maximize this chance.

Earlier this year, the HFLPC helped launch a new Farm Bill Law Enterprise. A House Food Waste Caucus was also created by Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-ME, and David Young, R-IA. The work is expected to be ongoing, but Pingree’s counsel Kelliann Blazek outlined what to watch for in the weeks ahead.

  • Blazek said legislation such as the Food Recovery Act and Food Date Labeling Act were never meant to pass on their own, but rather serve as suggestions or outlines for what could go into the Farm Bill. The Food Donation Act, recently sponsored in the Senate by Orrin Hatch, R-UT, is also a relevant one to watch.
  • While the Farm Bill’s language continues to change through amendments, it currently appears to contain multiple provisions around food waste. Relevant items under discussion include a food waste liaison position in the USDA, a milk donation reimbursement program for farmers, funding for food waste and specialty crop research, and $25 million in funding for community composting or municipal food waste reduction programs.
  • Whatever happens with the Farm Bill, Pingree’s office expects to keep pushing the issue by attracting new members to the bipartisan caucus and focusing on food waste within Congressional buildings. “Really the first step is just awareness,” said Blazek. “There’s a lot happening on the Hill right now. People are getting pulled in millions of directions.”

EPA & USDA Priorities

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made headlines in 2015 when they announced a goal to cut food waste 50% by 2030. One year into that goal, it was clear strategies were still evolving and the actual target might be more aspirational than attainable.

Once the Trump administration took over in 2017, many wondered whether the goal would remain in place at all. For the first year or so this policy appeared to fly under the radar—either because it was voluntary or because cabinet members had bigger priorities in mind—but as of 2018, it appears to be alive and well.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue hosted a food waste roundtable discussion in May, followed by a supportive statement saying that, “Our nation’s agricultural abundance should be used to nourish those in need, not fill the trash … So many people work on food waste issues in their own spheres, but it’s time to change the culture and adopt a holistic approach to get everyone working together and sharing ideas.”

  • Both agencies were represented at the panel. Kathleen Salyer, deputy director of the EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation, said the agency’s current focus was on improving measurement metrics to better understand the scope of the challenge. New national data, due out in 2019, is expected to help inform next steps.
  • Elise Golan, director of sustainable development in the USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist, said multi-agency collaboration was a big focus. The Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are seen as key partners.
  • Golan also emphasized the need for greater collaboration from private sector partners to achieve this 2030 target. “The government is not creating all of this waste and we are not going to be able to stop it,” she said.

After the panel, Golan told Waste Dive she is optimistic about the renewed attention from USDA and sees this as very much in line with the spirit of the agency’s mission to help farmers and increase access to the nutritious food they’re growing. “Almost everything we deal with has a flip side and the flip side is reducing food loss and waste,” she said.

That angle of helping farmers, investing in rural infrastructure and boosting domestic self-sufficiency is also seen as a good fit for President Donald Trump’s stated priorities.

“This really is about making American farmers stronger, American consumers stronger and utilizing everything that we are producing to its highest value,” said Golan. “So there would be no reason that this effort couldn’t be part of that discussion and part of that effort.”

Tools & Events:

As these larger national conversations progress, the stakeholders also have a variety of resources that are already available. The EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and U.S. Food Loss and Waste Champions 2030 programs are ongoing, along with the USDA’s Foodkeeper app to help with food storage and planning. 

  • The EPA is formalizing the release of a new anaerobic digester capacity survey—initially previewed on BioCycle—in the coming weeks. The agency also just launched an interactive EPA Excess Food Opportunities Map to help link up large generators and processors. A webinar on the tool is scheduled for July 12.
  • Salyer also previewed future reports from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation—a North American partnership—on food waste in 2019, after two were released earlier this year.
  • The USDA is teaming up with the FDA to create a “golden one-pager” around date label language with the goal of clearing up ongoing consumer confusion.
  • The Further with Food resource website, initially announced at the first Harvard food waste conference in 2016, also continues to expand. During the conference, it was announced that ReFED and the HFLPC have officially signed on as partners.
 

Food Access, Nutrition And Public Health In The Senate Farm Bill

Written by Kyla Kaplan for FBLE.

The Senate released its draft of the 2018 Farm Bill on Friday, June 8th. This post analyzes how the Senate Farm Bill addresses FBLE’s goals and recommendations from its report, Food Access, Nutrition, and Public Health. The Senate Agriculture Committee moved the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (S. 3042) out of committee on June 13th. The Senate is voting on S. 3042 this week.  

Protecting and Strengthening SNAP

Maintain SNAP’s Ability to Adapt to Changes in the Economic Conditions

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 preserves the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in its current form. By leaving the nation’s key anti-hunger program largely unchanged, SNAP will continue to serve those low-income Americans who are currently eligible to receive benefits. Specifically, in contrast to the farm bill that passed the House last week, S. 3042 would not expandwork requirements for SNAP. Although FBLE recommends eliminating all work requirements that apply to “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs) between the ages of 18-49, the Senate bill avoids putting SNAP even further out of reach for those who rely on it.  

FBLE is optimistic that additional provision in the Nutrition title will begin to address disparities between states in the quantity and quality of employment and training programs. The 2014 Farm Bill included SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) operation requirements for states surrounding job searches for unemployed individuals. The Senate bill will enhance these operations by allowing states to continue using effective SNAP E&T pilots that were authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. Further, the Senate bill modifies the current SNAP E&T operations. These modifications to the work-related pilot projects are meant to meet the needs of individuals who are seeking work but face barriers to employment such as physical condition and personal situation when applying for a job. The Senate bill provides $185 million in addition funding to serve individuals who are struggling with barriers to employment for each fiscal year from 2019-2020. These programs are meant to assist in combating these barriers, but participation in work programs are not tied to receipt of benefits.

Enhance and Improve SNAP to Address Food Insecurity, Revitalize Local Economies, Improve Access and Efficiency Through Technology, and Remove Ineffective Barriers to Food Access

While S. 3042 makes no cuts to SNAP, neither does it strengthen the program’s ability to meet its core responsibility of providing access to an adequate diet. For example, the bill does not follow FBLE’s recommendation to raise benefit levels, which currently are insufficient to meet beneficiaries diet and health needs.

However, the bill does take some steps toward utilizing technology tools to help SNAP participants. One issue SNAP applicants have is that SNAP is an income-based eligibility program. This leads to many beneficiaries having a difficult time proving their income and receiving their benefits. These challenges often result in people losing benefits, extended cost the government, and other confusion.

However, the S. 3042 takes steps to ease the barriers to entry for SNAP, by promoting cost effective and more efficient tools to verify earned  household or individual income for those receiving SNAP benefits. Further, the Senate bill instructs the USDA to allow Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) at farmers’ markets so that  SNAP participants can redeem benefits at multiple locations and support local food options. In its’ current form the current EBT system is often unreliable and is not always available for participants to use, therefore preventing people from getting the food they need.

Improving Public Health and Access to Nutritious Foods

Strengthen Food Assistance Programs that Promote Healthy Choices among SNAP Participants

FBLE supports the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (“SFMNP”), which awards states grants in order to provide vouchers to low-income seniors so that they can purchase foods (fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh cut herbs) at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and CSAs. S. 3042 would reauthorize SFMNP with $20.6 million per year in funding. Although the bill does not devote additional resources to the program, the bill would also ease the paperwork and office visit requirements on participants who are seniors or people with disabilities. This aligns with FBLE’s recommendation to strengthen SFMNP by helping to ensure that seniors receive assistance that can improve their access and health.  

FBLE also support the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (“FINI”), which is currently a grant program that funds projects that aim to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables SNAP recipients purchase. FINI has been renamed “The Gus Schumacher Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program.” FINI has been successful which led to its reauthorization and increased funding of $50 million per year, which is more than double the $100 million FINI received over the previous five years combined. FINI has also been authorized as a mandatory permanent program. This supports FBLE’s mission to devote additional resources to this program and ensure that low-income households are able to purchase nutritious food.

However, FINI is not everywhere and there needs to be improvements to the information and technology sharing across various FINI projects. FINI is often used as a pharmacy programs in states and is also used on other programs that are straight incentives for fruits and vegetables not tied to the healthcare system in any way directly.

Improve Health Outcomes of Low-Income Individuals Living with Serious Diseases by Establishing a Food is medicine Pilot

In a farm bill first, S. 3042 embraces the concept of “Food is Medicine.” Food is Medicine describes the provision of nutritious food tailored to the medical needs of an individual who lives with one or more health conditions likely to be affected by diet, such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and HIV.

FBLE’s proposes a Food is Medicine pilot program that supports and evaluates using medically-tailored meals to support the health of low-income individuals living with diseases. The Harvesting Health Pilot Program is a positive initial effort to connect low-income patients with fresh fruits and vegetables. However, this pilot does not provide meals or other types of food, and therefore is too narrow. A recent study found that a 16% net reduction in monthly healthcare spending for individuals receiving home delivery of medically tailored meals.

The Senate bill does not adopt FBLE’s approach, but takes a first step by creating the Harvesting Health Pilot Program, a $4 million program that receives funding each year and will be administered from 2019-2023. Under the program, the Produce Prescription Pilot will provide fresh fruits and vegetables to members through financial/non-financial incentives in order for members to purchase/procure fresh fruits and vegetables.

Eligibility for the program includes nonprofit organizations or state or units of local government. Further these groups are required to partner and involve a Health Care Program (hospitals, FQHC, healthcare provider groups, VA clinic) in the development of their “produce prescription” effort. In order to receive benefits, individuals must be receiving benefits from SNAP, Medicaid, or be a member of a low-income household that suffers from, or risks developing “a diet-related health condition.” There is also a broad requirement for members to provide educational resources on nutrition to members who receive benefits.

Evaluation and administration provides data to support the long term success of Food is Medicine initiatives. FBLE recommends “rigorously evaluation” of any Food is Medicine pilot program, which probably requires an amount greater than the 10% cap on program evaluation allowed by the Harvesting Health pilot.

Looking Ahead

Overall, S. 3042 is a bipartisan effort that rejects the partisan approach taken by the House bill and aligns much more closely to FBLE’s Food Access, Nutrition, and Public Health recommendations. In fact, the bill takes important steps forward by including pilot programs that continue to assist low-income and sick individuals. Moving forward, protecting the scope and scale of the food safety net will be a contentious issue as the Senate bill passes and the farm bill process moves into conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions will be negotiated. FBLE will be watching the process closely, so stay tuned.

 

Experts Say Lawsuit Challenging Affordable Care Act Could Kill It

Originally published by Healio on June 25, 208. Written by Janel Miller.

Attempts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act have taken a new turn. Nearly two dozen states or their governors have filed a lawsuit against the United States government, HHS, IRS and several others claiming that Congressional action that lowered the tax on those who did not comply with the individual mandate to buy insurance voids the Affordable Care Act.

The new lawsuit, known as Texas v. the United States (2018), has some experts and medical societies concerned about its ramifications. According to AMA, the Trump administration has said it will not defend the law, and if the plaintiffs win, it could invalidate all or many components of the ACA.

Legal analysis

“Obamacare is dead if the lawsuit succeeds,” Arthur Caplan, PhD, founding head of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine told Healio Family Medicine.

Robert Greenwald, JD, faculty director, Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, provided more background on the lawsuit. “The state plaintiffs and the administration have taken somewhat different positions in this case. The states are asserting that repeal of the individual mandate necessitates a repeal of the ACA in its entirety. The administration has agreed with the states, but only in so far as to assert that the guaranteed issue and community rating provisions must be overturned as a result of Congressional changes to the individual mandate. If either of these assertions prevails, then the scope of health care would change,” he said in an interview.

 

“If the state plaintiffs are successful, it would topple ACA, including provisions entirely unrelated to the individual mandate, such as the optional expansion of the Medicaid program. This would do untold damage to our health care system and leave us in a pre-ACA world where those that need health coverage the most are unable to access it,” Greenwald continued.

 

“If the administration’s arguments win the day, then the majority of the ACA will remain intact, however, the provisions that together prohibit insurers from denying coverage or imposing prohibitively high premiums on individuals living with preexisting conditions will be removed. This will return us to a time when 27% of American adults were virtually uninsurable due to insurance underwriting practices,” he said.

Not every component of the ACA is under the microscope in this lawsuit, Amanda C. Pustilnik, JD, a law professor at the University of Maryland said, adding that that the administration’s position against the ACA is “narrower than that of the states, taking aim only at the most important provisions that apply to individuals.”

“As the administration is not challenging Medicaid expansion, its position gives the lawsuit a dark silver lining,” she said in an interview. “If it succeeds, and more patients are forced into medical bankruptcy because of factors such as preexisting conditions, these patients at least may have Medicaid to fall back on. The upshot would be a huge wealth transfer. Insurance companies could shift the cost of care for the sickest patients onto taxpayers.”

The Texas v. United States lawsuit is atypical for other reasons, Pustilnik continued. “It is extraordinary—and telling—that several Department of Justice attorneys withdrew from the case before the administration filed its brief. This is very unusual. Attorneys represent clients’ positions. They don’t withdraw from a case just because they don’t like it—they withdraw when they believe it is spurious,” Pustilnik said.

Although the states involved in Texas v. the United States are led by Republican governors, and the majority of the current Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican presidents, Caplan said that does not guarantee the Republicans will prevail if it even makes it to the highest U.S. court.

“Remember that all of [ACA] was appealed to the Supreme Court and in 5-to-4 decision, John Roberts, a Republican, cast the critical vote that decided the government had the authority to control some aspects of health care,” he said. “I don’t think the Supreme Court will overturn it, if it even makes it that far.”

Greenwald also agreed that the case will not likely make it to the Supreme Court and even if it did, would likely be another blow in a series of Republican attempts to repeal and replace ACA. “While the partisan leanings of Supreme Court justices certainly have a role to play, the arguments being advanced by the plaintiffs here are weak. So, this case is anything but a slam dunk for the Trump administration.

 

“The case turns on the question of severability: if one part of the law is found to violate the Constitution, does the entire law fail, or is the law ‘severable’ such that only the offending provisions are invalidated,” Greenwald said. “On this issue, Congressional intent is highly dispositive and if intent is not specifically clear, judicial restraint most often results in courts only invalidating the specific portion of the law that violates the Constitution as opposed to the entire legal scheme. This reinforces the principle of separation of powers—the judicial branch will avoid invalidating as much of the Congressional branch’s work as possible,” he added. Greenwald also said that this last point would mirror National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), where the Supreme Court ruled the constitutionality of the mandated Medicaid expansion was invalid but upheld the other provisions of the ACA.

Medical societies respond

AMA, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College Physicians and AAP were among the medical groups expressing dismay about Texas v. United States, filing an amicus brief citing the harm to patient health that could result from the lawsuit.

“The policies being undermined through the plaintiffs’ action have broad, bipartisan and public support, and have improved the lives of patients. An unfavorable decision in this case would create further disruption, generate uncertainty, spark additional premium increases and cause declines in coverage,” Barbara L. McAneny, MD, AMA president, said in a press release. “We urge the court to reject this case because health policy should be developed in Congress and not in the courts.”

The ACP issued its own statement saying it feared the lawsuit moves progress on federal health policy backward, not forward.

“[The lawsuit] would disregard several vital provisions of the ACA — making it harder for patients to access care and for physicians to treat them,” ACP wrote in the statement.

“The amicus brief that was submitted … aligns with ACP’s longstanding advocacy goal of ensuring that the country’s health care system protects and provides for patients rather than taking away much-needed protections and resources. ACP is ready to work with Congress and the administration to ensure that misguided health care policies are not put above the well-being of patients,” the statement continued.

Texas v. United States builds on previous attempts to repeal and replace the ACA, considered former President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation.

Most recently, the current presidential administration reduced funding to the Prevention and Public Health Fund as part of the budget bill passed in February. The fund was established under the ACA to provide sustained, mandatory public health funding.

Earlier this month, President Donald J. Trump issued a new health insurance rule that he said will increase opportunities for employment-based health insurance to small businesses, but experts told Healio Family Medicine the rule would undercut the minimum standards of coverage established under ACA while potentially forcing practices to navigate the bureaucracy of new health care providers.

A court date for Texas v. the United States could not be verified prior to this story’s posting by Healio Family Medicine.

 

Productivity And Risk Management In The Senate Farm Bill

Written by Amy Hoover for FBLE.

Senate Bill Misses Key Opportunities for Reform

The Senate farm bill that advanced out of the Ag Committee on Wednesday, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018(designated S. 3042), misses key opportunities to reorient federal policy toward goals of long-term agricultural productivity and risk management. Although the bill makes modest improvements to better target resources toward stewardship priorities, it fails to reform a structure that disproportionately benefits large, consolidated farms at the expense of smaller-scale farms, taxpayers, and the environment. This blog post compares S. 3042 to FBLE’s recommendations in the report Productivity and Risk Management.

Commodity and Crop Insurance Programs

Instead of advancing FBLE’s commonsense recommendations to level the playing field among farmers and invest in soil and water, S. 3042 maintains a troubling status quo. The Senate misses key opportunities to better align farm bill incentives with shared values of resiliency and fairness and to redirect funding toward rewarding good stewardship practices.

For example, the Senate bill runs counter to FBLE’s recommendation to ensure that crop insurance programs promote sound risk management practices. Federal subsidies for crop insurance help farmers succeed despite the uncertainties inherent in agriculture. But the core features of the federal crop insurance program, which are unchanged in the Senate’s bill, go too far in sheltering farmers from risk. Programs that provide very high premium subsidies and coverage perversely encourage farmers to engage in risky behaviors, such as planting on marginal land, while taxpayers shoulder the downside costs. To promote sound risk management and eliminate windfall payments, FBLE recommends placing per-acre limits on federal crop insurance subsidies and reforming both the Harvest Price Option and Supplemental Coverage Option. The Senate missed its opportunity to rein in risky behaviors by leaving current programs unchanged.

S. 3042 also misses key opportunities to increase fairness in public-private crop insurance administration. Under the current farm bill, which the Senate leaves unchanged, companies that administer federally subsidized crop insurance benefit from guaranteed profits much higher than the average reasonable rate (14.5% guaranteed, compared to the average reasonable rate of 9.6%). The structure of the public-private partnership also encourages insurance companies to overspend on administrative and overhead costs. FBLE recommends placing reasonable limits on insurance companies’ guaranteed profits and administrative budgets in order to improve fairness. The Senate bill instead uses taxpayer dollars to perpetuate an unfair system.

The Senate bill fails to take meaningful steps toward structuring farm program payments so that they support farmer livelihoods, rural communities, and natural resources stewardship. Today, commodities and crop insurance programs advantage producers that seek maximum scale and yield at the expense of rural communities and their environment. The largest 10% of farm operations receive 68% of all insurance subsidies, and the largest 2% of farms receive 4 times more per acrein subsidies than the average farm. FBLE recommends that the Senate provide more equitable support in the crop insurance program by using means testing to limit crop insurance subsidies to the highest-income farms and limiting crop insurance premium subsidies per acre, but S. 3042 leaves these programs unchanged. On the commodities side, the Senate took a small step toward increasing fairness for farms of all sizes by reducing the adjusted gross income cap for commodity payments from $900,000 to $700,000. Although small, this change aligns with FBLE’s recommendation that Congress free up baseline budget through commonsense commodities reform.

Finally, S. 3042 undermines any opportunity for meaningful reform by leaving the “active personal management” loophole wide open. Although commodities programs require anyone receiving payments to have an “active personal management” role on the farm, loopholes (including payment limits that increase with farm size, ability to have managers per farm, and exemptions) severely limit this rule’s effectiveness. Congress came close to closing this loophole in 2014, when both the Senate and the House farm bills included reforms that were deleted in final negotiations. In the Senate Ag Committee’s farm bill draft markup on June 13th, an amendment from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that would limit payments and restrict recipients to one person per farm missed a procedural deadline and could not come to a vote. An amendment on the Senate floor to close this loophole would advance FBLE’s recommendations to target payments effectively. (Update: Grassley’s amendment was included in the final version of S. 3042 that passed the Senate on July 28.)

Conservation Compliance

The current draft of S. 3042 fails to make critical updates to conservation compliance requirements. These requirements are intended to guarantee minimum conservation standards on farms receiving farm bill subsidies, but serious deficiencies in compliance implementation and enforcement undermine the program’s effectiveness. These deficiencies remain unaddressed in the Senate bill.

NRCS map of highly erodible crop acres subject to conservation compliance requirements.

On USDA-designated highly erodible lands and wetlands, farmers must comply with basic conservation measures in order to receive federal crop insurance subsidies and commodity payments. However, current conservation compliance requirements fail to cover many types of vulnerable land, and where they do apply, they still allow erosion at unsustainable rates. USDA is not required to report conservation compliance data in a meaningful format to either Congress or the public, so a lack of data hamstrings efforts to understand and improve program effectiveness. Furthermore, a recent report from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reveals that USDA is not adequately monitoring or enforcing compliance requirements.

Whereas FBLE recommends increasing transparency in the conservation compliance program, updating standards to protect more soils, and funding robust enforcement and technical assistance for these standards, the Senate leaves this inadequate system unchanged. Since the bill does not provide funding for USDA to better address conservation compliance, USDA will remain unable to enforce compliance standards or provide farmers the support they need to comply.

The Senate’s action on Sodsaver, a program to protect native grasslands, provides a model for improving conservation compliance. An amendment to the Senate’s original bill allows Sodsaver to expand nationwide (subject to state approval) and includes reporting obligations that could also be applied to conservation compliance. Expanding Sodsaver’s model for reporting to conservation compliance would better align with FBLE’s recommendations.

Voluntary Conservation Programs

The Senate farm bill adopts key FBLE recommendations to move voluntary conservation programs towards the most effective stewardship practices but cuts funding to core conservation programs.

S. 3042 modifies voluntary conservation programs to better target funding to where it is most impactful. Currently, the benefits of conservation programs can be lost when land returns to production. The Senate bill improves opportunities for permanent conservation by enabling easier enrollment in permanent easements and re-enrollment in conservation activities. The bill also restores funding to ACEP, an easement program. The Senate bill enables farmers to scale up their conservation activities with a pathway to graduate from EQIP into the more rigorous CSP and adjusts RCPP priorities to better address local concerns and critical conservation. All of these changes align with FBLE’s recommendation to modernize conservation programs.

The Senate bill also advances FBLE’s recommendation to restore EQIP’s focus on smaller farms performing voluntary conservation. In S. 3042, EQIP better encourages water-protecting conservation, reduces set-asides that benefit concentrated animal feeding operations from 60% to 50%, and includes a “micro” program that will improve EQIP access for smaller-scale producers.

Despite these improvements to conservation programs, S. 3042 also makes harmful and unnecessary cuts to working lands programs. Funding for both CSP and EQIP are reduced in the bill. FBLE recommends that alongside better targeting, these programs should also have strong funding support.

The Senate farm bill also fails to invest in innovation. Whereas FBLE recommends prioritizing Conservation Innovation Grants to spur advances in state-of-the-art conservation techniques, S. 3042 maintains the status quo for program spending.

Pilot Programs and Research

The Senate bill adopts key FBLE recommendations on data collection, analysis, and availability. This data can inform policy strategies that prioritize long-term productivity and risk management. Still, the bill fails to address critical areas for agricultural resilience.

Aligning with FBLE’s recommendation to bolster links between insurance subsidies and soil health, S. 3042 pilots a “good driver discount” to reduce insurance rates based on risk-reducing stewardship practices. It also creates research programs to better understand linkages between practices, conditions, yield, and risk and provides data access to researchers. These steps lay a strong foundation that will enable future farm bill programs to target funding to support the most effective practices.

Still, S. 3042 falls short when it comes to moving U.S. agricultural systems forward into a changing future. As farmers face increasingly uncertain weather, shifting growing seasons, and other climate change impacts, FBLE recommends that the farm bill ensure a coordinated and robust USDA response to climate change. In individual programs, the farm bill takes small steps toward climate-conscious practices, including by promoting carbon farming in EQIP and including carbon sequestration and biogas generation in energy programs. But, by failing to seize a leading role on climate change issues, USDA misses an opportunity to clearly and effectively help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Furthermore, the Senate bill fails to invest in key areas of innovation. S. 3042 fails to address perennial agriculture, precision agriculture, and livestock predation. Research and pilot programs in these areas would address FBLE’s recommendations to advance farming practices.

Looking Ahead

Although the Senate’s farm bill takes small steps to better target federal investment in stewardship practices, it largely maintains a troubling status quo in farm bill programs. Overall, farm bill programs addressing productivity and risk management in S. 3042 continue to reward farm expansion and consolidation at the expense of smaller-scale farmers, taxpayers, and the environment. Still, as S. 3042 moves to the floor, opportunities remain to better align the Senate bill with FBLE recommendations. An anticipated floor amendment closing the “active personal management” loophole would better direct taxpayer dollars away from megafarms. Restoring full funding to CSP would better support our nation’s most effective conservation program and demonstrate the Senate’s commitment to a resilient agricultural system. If any of this happens, look to hear from us about it on an upcoming FBLE blog post.

 

15 Powerful Women Shaping How We Eat in America Today

A new article from the Kitchn looks at 15 women who are changing our current food system, including FLPC director Emily Broad Leib. 

Excerpt from the article:

 

The Woman Solving Our Food Waste Problem

Who: Emily M. Broad Leib
Power Role: Founder of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic

Forty percent of the food we produce in the United States goes uneaten. Besides making sure the food we buy gets used, what other actionable steps can citizens take? That’s where Emily Broad Leib comes in. As the founder of the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) at Harvard, Leib is addressing food waste on the legislative level. The FLPC is working to slowly but surely help Americans understand and participate in improving our complex and fraught food system,” says to Leib.

Leib is outspoken on food labeling policies, including her work as Executive Producer on Expired? Food Waste in America. The short documentary looks at the confusion behind “sell by” and “use by” date labels, and how label reform is necessary to help prevent food waste.

Read the full article, “15 Powerful Women Shaping How We Eat in America Today,” online.

 

CHLPI and Health Leaders Highlight Strategies to Address Rural Health Disparities at Capitol Hill Briefing

Written by Hanh Nguyen, Whole Person Care Project Assistant.

On March 7th, 2018, CHLPI, Farmworker Justice, and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, in conjunction with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Health Task Force, hosted a Congressional Briefing on telehealth and the use of Community Health Workers (CHWs) as critical strategies for improving access to and quality of care in rural communities. The Briefing coincided with the release of The Promise of Telehealth: Strategies to Improve Quality of Healthcare in Rural America that explored barriers to, and opportunities for, increasing the use of telehealth in rural safety net care settings, such as Federally Qualified Health Centers.

Rural residents in the U.S. face unique challenges that limit their ability to access quality healthcare. These challenges, including shortages of practicing physicians, lack of resources, and limited access to health insurance, contribute to health disparities in rural communities.

Congressman Raul Ruiz of California, the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Health Care Task Force, joined expert panelists in a discussion on delivering quality care in rural areas. Ruiz called attention to the infrastructure barriers to healthcare access in rural areas, especially in his hometown, Coachella Valley. “In our most populated city with the most patients, we had 4 exam rooms that covered a population of about 150,000 people, 12 emergency rooms for those people, and one doctor per 9,000 patients,” said Ruiz. “My purpose here is to have these conversations, to identify gaps and what we can do, through policy, to build a road to get us to those better recommendations.”

Healthcare disparities in rural communities

Rural America is home to 20% of the U.S. population, but only about 10% of its practicing physicians, meaning that rural residents often must have to travel far distances to receive care, and even longer distances to access specialty or dental care. Long trips (30 miles or greater) require not only access to reliable transportation but also dependable childcare for families with young children. Consequently, the cost of healthcare places significant economic burdens on those living in rural areas, often resulting in individuals not receiving the medical care that they require.

There’s no substitute to a physician and a nurse’s touch, and to be in the room with your patient. But we have one doctor per 9,000 residents in my community. So, I do think that telemedicine provides good quality interactions with certain illnesses, especially with mental health and other ailments. I believe that there’s a way we can bring in technology to serve those populations. There is no excuse for not providing high quality care for anyone in the United States.” – Congressman Ruiz

Delivering effective healthcare to the “hardly reached” – Community Health Workers

“For telehealth to really be able to move the needle on world health disparities, it has to be coupled with other interventions that have been shown to be effective in reaching rural populations, and that’s where Community Health Workers come in,” said Sarah Downer, CHLPI’s Associate Director for Whole Person Care. “When a CHW is involved in care, patient outcomes improve. They show significant return on investment, especially when CHWs are used to provide care to complex populations.”

Downer defined a CHW as, “a problem solver, peer educator, resource connector, a person in the community who is willing to give the shirt off their back, someone who comes from the community they’re serving.” CHWs are a powerful force in improving health outcomes by facilitating healthcare access, promoting healthy behaviors in the communities that they serve, and bridging information, communication, and cultural gaps between rural populations and healthcare services.

The health disparities in the rural population highlight a need for using new strategies and resources, like telehealth and CHWs, to improve health outcomes.

The Promise of Telehealth

CHLPI’s issue brief, The Promise of Telehealth, took a comprehensive look at legal, administrative, technological, and cultural barriers to the integration of telehealth into care, and called for legislative and regulatory action. 

The brief urged policymakers to support legislation and regulation at the federal and state level that expands coverage and reimburses for care provided via telehealth. It also encouraged the government to maintain robust support for expanding access to broadband internet services in rural areas and increase funding for telehealth technology. Finally, any action to increase the use of telehealth must contribute to the overall goal of achieving a well-coordinated and effective model of care. Successful use of telehealth will enhance and leverage effective strategies already in place for reaching rural populations, like the use of CHWs.

All steps to increase access to health care via telehealth should be taken with an eye toward ensuring that the delivered care is effective, coordinated, and right for the patient. The smart use of new technology in the healthcare field has the potential to dramatically improve both access and quality of care in rural communities across the nation.

 This event’s panelists included:

  • Sarah Downer, JD: Associate Director for Whole Person Care, Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA
  • Carlos Ugarte, MSPH: Director for Health Programs, Farmworker Justice, Washington, D.C.
  • Herminia Ledesma: Program Manager, Vista Community Clinic, San Diego, CA
  • Liliana Arroyo: Promotora de Salud for Skin Cancer Prevention Programs, Campesinos Sin Fronteras, Yuma, Arizona
  • Susan Boiko, MD: Dermatologist, Rady Children’s Hospital- San Diego; University of California San Diego, Associate Professor of Dermatology, San Diego, CA

Panelists at the Community Health Workers and Telehealth Briefing in Washington, D.C.

CHLPI and Farmworker Justice will continue to engage with policymakers on taking concrete steps to improve healthcare and increase the use of telehealth and CHWs in rural communities. Check back regularly for updates!

 

Senate Farm Bill Draft Takes Further Steps in the Right Direction to Address Food Waste

With 40 percent of our food going to waste each year, costing billions of dollars and causing tremendous ecological harm in the process, preventing food waste and ensuring wholesome food makes it to those in need is a top priority for the United States. USDA and EPA underscored the national importance of this issue when they announced the goal to halve U.S. food waste by 2030. The 2018 Farm Bill represents a valuable opportunity to address food waste in a way that benefits farmers, consumers, and the environment. Recognizing the potential for the farm bill to make a significant impact in this arena, FLPC published Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill last year. This report outlines 17 recommendations for incorporating food waste measures into the 2018 Farm Bill. While the U.S. House of Representatives’ draft Farm Bill failed to address the majority of FLPC’s suggestions with the exception of the recommendation to create a Food Loss and Waste Liaison within USDA (as discussed on our blog here), the Senate draft includes several important, common-sense provisions to reduce wasted food. The Senate’s Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (“AIA”), released on June 9, would conserve food and agricultural resources while providing nutrition to those who need it most.

Below we describe the proposed support for food waste reduction in the Senate’s AIA, which includes several of FLPC’s own recommendations. We also point out some missed opportunities, including several of the most cost-effective and highest impact solutions. We hope the Senate, and the final Farm Bill, will include some of these other priorities. In the meantime, FLPC is excited that both the House and Senate versions mention “food waste” in the Farm Bill for the first time ever. We count this as progress!

New Food Waste Programs Aligned with FLPC’s Recommendations

Grant resources for food recovery infrastructure investments: The AIA proposes changes to the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to reduce waste of agricultural products. TEFAP provides both food and administrative funding to states for purposes of providing emergency feeding assistance to those in need. The AIA would allocate $10 million per year to states for projects “harvesting, processing, or packaging” donated agricultural commodities. States can use this funding for projects that reduce the waste of agricultural products through donation, provide food to food insecure individuals, and create new partnerships to distribute food to those in need. The AIA also requires the USDA to provide guidance on best practices to reduce food waste among donated food commodities for TEFAP. This addition to TEFAP aligns with FLPC’s recommendation that the Farm Bill include grants to support investment in food recovery infrastructure.

Pilot Project to Support State and Local Composting and Food Waste Reduction Plans: Food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste in landfills. The AIA would provide funding to support the development of local composting and food waste reduction efforts, along the lines of FLPC’s recommendation that the Farm Bill allocate federal funding to support state and local efforts to implement organic waste bans and food waste reduction plans. Specifically, it would allocate $25 million per year for pilot projects in at least ten states to develop and implement municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans. Eligible projects must  increase access to compost for agricultural producers, encourage waste management and permaculture business development, reduce municipal food waste, and divert food waste from landfills, among others. Projects applying for funds will receive priority review if they address other food waste strategies, including food recovery efforts. FLPC applauds the inclusion of these funds in the Senate draft bill.

Study on Food Waste: Because comprehensive research on the amount and causes of food waste in the U.S. has been limited, FLPC recommends that Congress provide funding for comprehensive research on food waste. The AIA requires USDA to conduct a study to evaluate the available methods to measure food waste, standards for food waste volume, and factors that cause food waste. USDA would be required to submit a report on the results within one year, and in subsequent years would be required to submit an annual report that includes an estimate of food waste in that year and best practices or recommendations for food waste reduction. This ongoing research would provide important data and support the development of best practices for reducing food waste.

Local Agriculture Marketing Program: The AIA would establish the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), combining the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) with the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and providing $60 million per year in permanent mandatory funding. LAMP would provide grants to business and non-profits for a range of eligible activities, including the promotion of “new business opportunities and marketing strategies to reduce on-farm food waste.” This provision aligns with FLPC’s recommendation to amend the language authorizing LFPP grants to include “food-recovery related businesses or nonprofits” as entities eligible for the program, to ensure they are eligible to benefit from these funds.

Spoilage prevention: FLPC recommended that Congress provide grant funding for new technologies to slow food spoilage . The AIA would amend the Speciality Crop Research Initiative to include funding for efforts to better understand systems to “improve and extend the storage life of specialty crops.” Specialty crops is the technical term for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other horticulture crops.

Missed opportunities

Although there is much to commend in the AIA, many of FLPC’s top food waste recommendations, including some of the most cost-effective policy opportunities, were not addressed. These include:

Standardize date labeling: Approximately 20 percent of food waste is caused by confusion over food date labelling such as sell by, best by, use by, etc., which lead uncertain consumers, food businesses, and even food banks to throw away food that is still perfectly safe to eat. To address this, FLPC advocates for the standardization of date labels at the federal level by providing two standard phrases for manufacturers to use on food products: “BEST If used by” to indicate a quality date and “USE By” to indicate a discard date. Standardizing date labels has been found to be one of the most cost-effective solutions to food waste.

Increase awareness and enhance liability protection: The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act provides comprehensive federal liability protection for food donors and the non-profits they partner with to distribute food. By reducing liability risk, the Emerson Act encourages donation. While the Emerson Act provides strong protection, many potential donors are not aware of these protections or have questions about their scope, and there are also opportunities to enhance these protections to reflect the modern food recovery landscape. The Farm Bill provides an opportunity for Congress to task USDA with clarifying the scope of the Emerson Act and raising awareness of the Act. The Food Donation Act, sponsored by Senator Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), addresses these needs for clarification and expansion of protection, and the language from this act should be included in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Create an Office of Food Waste Reduction: National policies and programs are often developed without food waste in mind. In order to increase awareness of food waste and identify opportunities to address it, FLPC recommends the establishment of an Office or Liaison position within USDA, responsible for coordinating food waste reduction efforts. This new office or liaison would be tasked with developing and implementing food waste reduction and food recovery programs, identifying opportunities to improve federal food waste programs, and guiding businesses in their waste reduction efforts. While the House draft of the Farm Bill would create a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison position within the USDA, the Senate draft does not, representing an important missed opportunity.

Summary

While neither the House nor the Senate’s versions of the farm bill address all of FLPC’s recommendations, it is clear that the Senate Ag Committee is taking food waste far more seriously, and they are to be commended for the steps taken so far. FLPC will continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps that could help ensure that all of the food we work so hard to produce in this country does not go to waste.

 

Senate Farm Bill Adopts FBLE Recommendations; Key Concerns Remain

Written by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic for FBLE.

Last Friday the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry released their draft farm bill, kicking off the Senate’s effort to pass new omnibus legislation before some provisions of the current law expire in September. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (“AIA”), which arrives on the heels of the House’s failure to pass its own partisan farm bill last month, rejects the worst provisions of H.R. 2. Opportunities remain for the Senate to improve the AIA so that the next farm bill creates opportunity for all farmers, provides a robust safety net against hunger, and conserves the health of our shared natural resources. Amendments will be considered during the full committee markup tomorrow, and again when it reaches the Senate floor toward the end of this month.

On the whole, the Senate bill rejects the partisan approach of the House bill, which would cut the food safety net, terminate key conservation programs, and upend support for local food systems, sustainable agriculture, and limited resource farmers, among others. Instead, the AIA would largely extend the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill with some important tweaks. It embodies the common wisdom that farm bills tend to be “evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”

Unfortunately, preserving the status quo means that the bill falls short on many systemic issues FBLE grapples with in its reports, and in some cases the AIA actually reverses hard-won progress. On the other hand, the bill makes modest but meaningful advances in many areas by embracing a number of FBLE’s policy recommendations and setting the stage for more effective farm bill policy down the road.

Food Access, Nutrition, and Public Health

Protecting SNAP

The AIA protects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) as the nation’s most vital and successful anti-hunger program. Where the House bill would expand work requirements and cause over 2 million people to lose benefits, the Senate bill makes no cuts to eligibility for low-income Americans.

FBLE’s report, Food Access, Nutrition, and Public Health, explains how, although SNAP already includes work requirements, those requirements currently apply to “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs) between the ages of 18 to 49. FBLE recommends eliminating work requirements for ABAWDs altogether because the evidence shows that SNAP does not cause people to work less. Although the AIA would maintain existing work requirements, it at least avoids putting food security further out of reach for a new class of SNAP recipients by increasing those requirements.

Enhancing SNAP

Beyond protecting SNAP from harmful changes, the AIA includes provisions that would strengthen and enhance SNAP. FBLE encouraged Congress to look at how technology could reduce the burdens—on SNAP families and on government—of participation in and administration of the program, respectively. The Senate bill takes several steps in the right direction.

For example, the AIA instructs USDA to give farmers’ market vendors new options for accepting EBT, or electronic benefits transfer, which SNAP recipients use to purchase food. This could help lower a longstanding barrier of operating efficient and cost-effective SNAP EBT systems at farmers’ markets. Another provision would examine the cost effectiveness of new tools to verify household income. It is research that could lead to widespread adoption of simplified methods that reduce unnecessary paperwork burdens while keeping eligible households enrolled in the program.

The Senate bill reaches further than technical improvements to SNAP and makes modest investments toward FBLE’s vision of a farm bill that improves public health and increases access to healthy, nutritious foods, especially among vulnerable populations and rural communities. Notably, the renamed Gus Schumacher Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program (FINI) would receive mandatory permanent baseline funding of $50 million per year, more than double the $100 million FINI received over the previous five years combined. FINI promotes healthy choices among SNAP participants through “double bucks” and other incentive programs that increase the purchasing power of SNAP benefits.

Food Is Medicine

Finally, the AIA embraces FBLE’s recommendation to improve health outcomes of low-income individuals living with serious diseases by establishing a food is medicine pilot. The new “Harvesting Health” program would pilot efforts to connect low-income patients with the fresh produce prescribed by healthcare professionals. FBLE recommends a more targeted pilot that focuses on the provision of medically-tailored meals for chronically sick individuals—a recent study found a 16% net reduction in monthly healthcare spending for individuals receiving home delivery of medically tailored meals. However, the Senate bill’s embrace of “food is medicine” is at least a toe in the right direction, and includes critical provisions for data collection and analysis that will improve program design down the road.

Diversified Agricultural Economies

FBLE’s report, Diversified Agricultural Economies, explains how the farm bill can begin to correct a history of USDA discrimination while bringing a new generation into U.S. agriculture. In particular, beginning, minority and women farmers need access to retail markets, credit, agricultural insurance and land. The AIA takes modest steps toward each of these four goals.

Access to Markets

Recent farm bills supported investments in expanding direct market opportunities between farmers and their customers. FBLE recommends that Congress build on the incredible success of the Farmers’ Market and Local Foods Promotion Programs by increasing mandatory funding from $30 million to $50 million per year, which would elevate the program to the more permanent status that it has earned. The Senate bill achieves the same end by consolidating FMLFPP with the Value-Added Producer Grant program to create the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). LAMP would receive $60 million per year in permanent mandatory funding, forever enshrining the most important USDA programs that connect farmers to the growing demand for fresh, local and organic food.

Further protecting the growth of new markets—and in contrast to the House bill—the AIA also maintains the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (OCCSP), which reimburses farmers up to $750 to help defray the cost of organic certification. As recommended in more detail by FBLE, Senators should consider additional changes to help small, beginning and minority farmers better use this cost-share to access growing organics markets.

Access to Credit

The best way to ensure that producers can grow and adapt into new markets is to provide reliable access to credit. FBLE recommends that Congress take steps to increase outreach to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers to increase participation rates in USDA programs, especially credit programs. The Senate bill would combine the Section 2501 Program, which helps minority farmers access USDA resources, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program into a new program called the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (FOTOP). The new program would receive $50 million per year in permanent funding, an increase over previous years that would not be subject to the vagaries of Congress’ annual appropriations process.

Insurance and Land

Finally, the AIA includes several FBLE recommendations to improve access to insurance and land for small, beginning and minority farmers, especially those growing in diversified production systems (e.g., many crops, or crops and animals together). The Senate bill makes important improvements to the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program by improving agent compensation and requiring more education and outreach about this critical tool for diversified producers. Farmers looking to buy or lease land could continue to rely on the CRP Transition Incentive Program, which receives a small increase in funding to $10 million per year over the next five years.

Productivity and Risk Management

Commodities and Crop Insurance

The Senate draft misses the opportunity to reform the system that disproportionately subsidizes the largest farms through commodity and crop insurance programs. FBLE recommends commonsense reforms that would level the playing field among farmers and allow smarter and more robust investment in our soil health and water quality.

Instead, the AIA leaves the crop insurance program unchanged. By maintaining the status quo, the Senate fails to apply any income test or subsidy limit to insurance premium subsidies, or to rein in the excesses of insurance products that allow environmental and financial risk-taking on the public’s dime.

The bill’s approach to the major commodity programs, ARC and PLC, reflects a similar passiveness. These programs pay commodity producers when revenue or yield fall below certain benchmarks. FBLE recommends strengthening the limits on who can receive these payments. The Senate bill makes a nod to this concern by adjusting the means test to prevent anyone making over $700,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI) from receiving subsidies, down from $900,000. However, the bill fails to close the existing loopholes that allow nearly anyone with a tenuous connection to a large farming operation to receive up to $125,000 in annual subsidy payments. Lawmakers will have another chance to clarify the definition of who is “actively engaged” in farming, and therefore eligible for payments, when the bill is considered by the Committee on Wednesday. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is expected to push for an amendment that passed both houses of Congress in 2013 but was stripped out of the final bill.

Conservation

Limiting wasteful and even counterproductive subsidies would allow Congress to invest more in sustainable farming practices. FBLE’s report Productivity and Risk Management identifies opportunities for the farm bill to continue to update and improve its conservation agenda across the core areas of conservation compliance, working lands programs, and retirement programs.

FBLE recommends critical updates to the mandatory conservation compliance requirements that guarantee minimum conservation standards on farms receiving farm bill subsidies. An analysis of USDA data out last week confirms “serious deficiencies in conservation compliance implementation, a failure to enforce conservation compliance in many states, and problems with how USDA verifies that farmers are taking the necessary steps to comply.” The first draft of the Senate bill fails to reckon with these deficiencies.

There are winners and losers among the voluntary conservation programs. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which makes rental payments to farmers who fallow environmentally sensitive land, would sustain enrollment around 25 million acres. FBLE has critiqued CRP, noting that once CRP acres re-enter production, most if not all conservation benefits disappear. For this reason, FBLE recommends transitioning the most environmentally sensitive CRP acres into permanent easements. The Senate bill makes a down payment on this approach by authorizing permanent Conservation Reserve Easements on a narrow subset of protected acres, and this approach should be expanded to acres under CRP.

On working lands—that is, land under active production—the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) helps farmers cover the cost of adopting new conserving practices. FBLE recommends increasing funding to CSP, with a particular emphasis on the highest-impact activities like resource-conserving crop rotations. The AIA rejects the House’s dismantling of CSP, but still makes a $1 billion cut on top of previous cuts from the 2014 Farm Bill. The Senate bill also cuts the other major working lands program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), by about $1.5 billion. This cut to EQIP comes with a small silver lining; namely, it adopts FBLE’s recommendation to decrease the amount of EQIP funding earmarked for livestock operations, much of which subsidizes concentrated animal feeding operations.

There are a few other bright spots within conservation. The Senate draft includes small but significant increases to smaller conservation programs. The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program would have much of its funding restored after its consolidation in 2014. In addition, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program would receive the additional scope and funding recommended by FBLE. RCPP, which provides technical and financial assistance to carry out projects at state or regional scales, would receive more guaranteed funding. States would also receive greater control to direct resources toward local and regional conservation priorities.

Research and Pilot Programs

Finally, the Senate bill would begin the critical process of establishing and measuring the links between crop risk and soil health. FBLE recommends that Congress give USDA the mandate and resources to adjust crop insurance premiums to reflect a broader notion of risk management activities. The AIA would take two important steps toward this goal. First, it would direct USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) to research and analyze the relationship between crop yield, risk and soil types. Second, it would create a data warehouse that academic researchers could use to analyze crop yield, soil health, risk, and profitability data from RMA. These are crucial first steps toward incorporating soil health into the financial incentives that producers depend on most so that the public can begin to see a more robust return on its investment in farm subsidies.

 

 

Next Page »