There was a faint hope that Congress would get its act together and hammer out a Farm Bill before it expired on October 1. House Republicans’ insistence on draconian cuts to food assistance programs has prevented a joint Senate-House conference committee from even beginning discussions of how, and whether, to fund dozens of farm programs over the five years.
Many of these programs help Vermont’s farms (both conventional and organic) and support the development of our local food systems. Some fund training and development programs at NOFA and similar organizations, while others serve farmers directly.
Among those programs affected are the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the Farmers Market Promotion Program, the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives, Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program, Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) and others. These programs will remain without funding unless and until Congress decides to restore funding in a new Farm Bill.
Unfortunately, the prospects for this happening any time soon dimmed further today, when Washington’s dysfunction led to the shutdown of much of the federal government. This includes Vermont offices of USDA programs that assist our farmers with funds and assistance everyday, implementing conservation practices, providing operating loans, disaster recovery and business services. All work at Vermont’s NRCS offices and Federal Farm Service Agency have been suspended until further notice. (Don’t bother calling — no one is there.)
Let us hope that sanity will return to Washington soon. There is too much work to be done and too many people whose lives and livelihoods are being harmed — including those of Vermont’s farmers.
For more details about how specific programs will (or will not) continue, take a look at this post from the National Farmers Union.
[Post by Dave Rogers, NOFA-VT Policy Advisor]