Guest Post: Farm Bill can work for Colorado if we take action

Farm Bill
Illustration credit: Mark Castillo with graphic elements from and photo from Daniel Taylor, Creative Commons, Flickr

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Over the next few months, we have an amazing opportunity to enhance and improve Colorado’s robust agricultural economies and our citizens’ access to healthy food.  This opportunity depends on passing a timely, thoughtful, and bipartisan Farm Bill – our nation’s most significant piece of legislation affecting farm, food, and nutrition.

We need our Congressional delegation to ensure the 2018 Farm Bill provides an adequate safety net and supports long-term viability for Colorado farmers and ranchers. It must also address the needs of hungry Coloradans, advance solutions that protect our fragile natural environment, and promote growing new markets. While this may seem wide-ranging, we are not asking too much of this bill. In fact, we are asking of it exactly what was intended and what it has previously provided. Conservation, farmland preservation, and nutrition were the three original tenets of the first Farm Bill crafted under the FDR administration.

Unfortunately, the version of the Farm Bill currently under debate in the U.S. House of Representatives is neither bipartisan nor does not enhance or even ensure many of these original tenets. Rather, it negatively impacts consumer health and the development of local and regional food systems.

Why is the Farm Bill so important to us? For one, Colorado’s agriculture economy, including food industries, is the largest sector of our economy, generating more than $40 billion in annual sales accounting for 175,000 jobs. Local companies export their products to more than 100 countries worldwide, and approximately 500,000 Coloradans rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to help feed their families. Finally, every Coloradan benefits from the policies that address food safety, land conservation and soil health, water quality, fire prevention, and community well-being. Here in Colorado, the livelihoods of many of our residents – rural, urban, suburban, and within the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal nations – are greatly affected by federal food and agriculture policies found in the Farm Bill.

There are many programs currently in law that must remain as robust pieces of the 2018 Farm Bill. For example, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program provides incentive funding for Colorado’s Double Up Food Bucks program. In 18 short months, this program has brought $500,000 to farmers, farmers markets, and retailers offering Double Up Food Bucks, while simultaneously enabling Colorado’s low-income consumers to increase their purchasing of fruits and vegetables for their families.

Farmers and ranchers are facing more uncertainties and enduring more stress than any time in the past generation. Farm income is off by half since 2013, persistent drought and the resulting wildfires are harming production, and input costs continue to climb. Producers need policies that allow them to survive sustained low commodity prices. Crop insurance requires adequate funding to continue as a reliable risk management tool in times of low production due to severe weather events. Strong conservation programs ensure farmers and ranchers can conserve, manage, and enhance natural resources while increasing the productivity and sustainability of their operations. Congress can do this if they increase acreage under Conservation Reserve Program; maintain funding for working lands conservation programs that promote active stewardship and locally-led conservation activities; and renew and fully fund programs that include climate mitigation research and technical assistance at national and local levels.

We need to fight for these programs that have done double duty in contributing to Coloradans’ ability to eat healthy while simultaneously enhancing our local and regional agricultural economies.

We don’t want to squander the opportunity before us. We need Congress to find the vision and the will to make things better in America’s Heartland, as well as our biggest cities, by passing a bipartisan Farm Bill that creates and sustains economic opportunities across many different sectors while supporting the continued growth of a resilient, health-promoting food system.

Wendy Peters Moschetti is director of food systems for LiveWell Colorado. Terri Livermore is policy director for food systems at LiveWell and Nick Levendofsky is the director of external affairs for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

About LiveWell Colorado

LiveWell Colorado is a statewide nonprofit organization committed to increasing access to healthy eating and active living by removing barriers that inequitably and disproportionately affect low-income communities and people of color. LiveWell focuses on policy, environmental, and systems changes that advance opportunity for healthy behaviors. Working with partners in communities across the state, LiveWell aims to ensure that all Coloradans live in environments with equitable access to the nourishing food and physical activity they need to be healthy. LiveWell is an underwriter of The Colorado Independent’s coverage of health and food equity issues.

About Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) works across Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming to advocate for family farmers and ranchers, local communities, and consumers. It is a progressive grassroots organization that was founded in 1907, whose principles are fundamental for the profitability of farmers and ranchers, assuring food, security, and strengthening energy independence. As a grassroots organization, RMFU opens doors for its members to be at the table in developing policy and having a voice in issues important to rural America. RMFU primarily focuses on education, legislation, and cooperation, believing the best way to create change is through working together.