The Farm Bill is the primary tool that the federal government uses to allocate tax payer money towards food assistance, income and price supports for commodity crops, and conservation incentives. Roughly 100 billion taxpayer dollars are spent on these initiatives every year, so it’s a good idea to keep up with how this money is being spent (Imhoff, 2). Critics of current Farm Bill initiatives would argue that lobbying by agribusiness commodity crop and animal agriculture operations results in them receiving disproportionate support, while diverse smallholder farmers, conservation initiatives, and food assistance remain under-resourced (Alkon, 28). The following statistics support this point:
- In 2018 60% of Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds went to animal agriculture operations- hundreds of millions of dollars intended for “conservation” were used to help industrial hog farms (CAFOs) clean up toxic hog waste instead of to fund local soil remediation and wildlife conservation initiatives (Imhoff, 54). Did somebody say lobbying?
- Between 1995 and 2014 50 billionaire agribusiness magnates from the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, received $6.3 million in subsidies from the U.S. government while medium and small-scale farmers received inadequate support (Imhoff, 76)
- Between 1995 and 2014, $323 billion taxpayer dollars were spent subsidizing just five commodity crops: corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, and rice (Imhoff, 76). Meanwhile vegetables, fruits, and nuts growers receive inadequate support. For example, Imhoff found that 90% of California growers received no federal subsidies, yet California growers produce ⅔ of domestic fruits and nuts and ⅓ of U.S. vegetables (Imhoff, 81).
The way that the Farm Bill functions right now is anathema to food sovereignty and agroecology because it prioritizes the goals of corporations and the market over the goals of everyday workers and farmers. The Farm Bill must be reworked to support and empower local networks, diverse ways of knowing and relating to land, and equitable access to land. It must also be used as a tool for dismantling structural racism in the food system, by empowering farmers of color and community organizers fighting food apartheid.
Sources + more reads
Alkon, A. H. (2014). Food justice and the challenge to neoliberalism. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 14(2), 27-40.
Imhoff, Dan and Christina Badaracco. (2019). The Farm Bill: A Citizen’s Guide. Island Press. Print.
Timeline of federal farm policies under Trump: https://ballotpedia.org/Federal_policy_on_agriculture_and_food,_2017-2018