Approximately every five years Congress reviews a variety of federal laws, both permanent and expiring, which collectively make up what is known as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act or more commonly, The Farm Bill. These laws regulate a wide variety of agricultural and food programs and has continued to expand throughout the past few decades. There are currently a total of fifteen titles consisting of selected programs and policies written under the most recent 2008 Farm Bill.
The first title addresses commodity programs. For these programs, the farm bill authorizes financial support for crops through direct payments, countercyclical payments and marketing loans. Direct payments are regulated by limiting the amount of money producers can collect annually to $40,000 per person. Market loans to farmers are now adjusted depending upon the price at which a crop sells. When farmers take out loans to cover production costs and use their crops as collateral, the amount of their loan repayment is dictated by the price at which their crop sells. Therefore, if a crop sells for less than the loan rate, farmers can choose to repay the government at the lower rate. A countercyclical payment is given to farmers when the price of their crop drops below a pre-determined target price.
The second title is about conservation programs and recently included a $7.9 billion increase in the 2008 Farm Bill. Through this provision, conservation programs are emphasized and a few new expansions, including the Wetland Reserve Program, Farmland Protection Program and Grassland Reserve Program. This title is responsible for the environmental stewardship of farmlands and improved management practices through land retirement and working land programs.¹ By increasing funding for these programs, there is a greater incentive to participate in conserving the environment.
Title III was created to tackle trade and food aid in the United States. It includes a number of programs regarding food supplies, agricultural export and international food assistance programs. This bill authorized an increase in spending for non-emergency food assistance. It also established small programs for local and regional purchase of supplies to prevent famine during crises. In an attempt to improve nutrition for some of the world’s poorest children, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program was also created under this title. Through this program U.S. agricultural products and other forms of assistance are donated to less fortunate countries that are committed to education.
Nutrition is the fourth title and is responsible for a very large portion of the spending. More than two-thirds of the farm bill is dedicated to nutrition programs such as food stamps, school lunch and snack programs and support for food banks. For the first time in several years, Congress increased the minimum benefit for food stamp recipients with the 2008 Farm Bill. The food stamp program’s eligibility was also expanded and renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. This newly renamed program also made it easier for the USDA to fight fraud in the program and switch from using food coupons to electronic benefit cards. Under this provision also lie the Emergency Food Assistance Program and programs supporting child and senior nutrition such as the WIC program and the school snack program for children. With these changes, healthy eating is highly accentuated and locally produced foods are promoted further.
Farm credit is an important financial subject as it encompasses Title V of the 2008 Farm Bill. This law authorizes the limit for farm loans and determines a fixed interest rate for repayment of these loans as well. The number of loans given to beginning and disadvantaged farmers is increased and also includes a fixed interest rate. In addition, conservation loans are offered for farmers who carry out approved...
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