WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Farm Bill Programs Target Aid for Smaller Farms

Oct 2, 2014

The Farm Bill was passed in February. But now, piece by piece, it’s taking effect. We’re beginning to see how parts of the farm bill are doing more to help farmers go small.

The new farm bill includes more money to promote local food and farmers markets.
Credit Overduebook/Flickr

The Farm Bill contains about half a trillion dollars in spending over five years. The vast majority of that pays for huge programs like food stamps and subsidized crop insurance. But this time around, Congress carved out a little more room for local and organic foods, and it’s starting to show.

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture handed out more than $50 million to promote farmers markets and local food, and to research organic agriculture.

That includes:

-$1.9 million for organic research and extension outreach from Iowa State University

-$50,000 for Community Crops in Lincoln, Neb., to help beginning farmers

-$100,000 for Omaha non-profit No More Empty Pots to kick start a regional food hub

Those amounts hardly measure up to the billions spent to support commodity agriculture, but it is a significant increase over past farm bills. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said as big farms grow bigger, small farms need a place to compete.

“That smaller producer may have a hard time based on market prices that are dictated by the larger producers and the larger market,” Vilsack said. “So what we’re trying to do is create an opportunity for that small, local producer to be able to sell directly to a school or directly to a farmers market.”

Vilsack said having a mix of big and small farms will be better for the rural economy in the long run.