The US Senate is presently debating passage of the Farm Bill (officially known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012), the laws that authorize US Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and related food initiatives for the next five years. You can learn more about the Senate plan here, and recent House Committee hearings and debates are posted here. Most of the debate focuses on important issues related to crop support payments, food security, food assistance, and the like. But, the Farm Bill also authorizes and funds critical rural development programs such as those run by USDA’s Office of Rural Development. Thse programs are essential support tools for many rural communities and rural residents, most of whom don’t use or rely upon traditional farm bill programs such as crop support payments.
On Tuesday, rural development advocates got some good news when a bipartisan group of Senators voted 55-44 to pass an important amendment introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Brown’s amendment funds critical rural development programs, including:
- The Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program to provide assistance to firms with less than 10 employees.
- The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program to provide education and technical assistance to new farmers.
- The Value-Added Producer Grant Program to help provide financing for the development of local value-added food systems.
The bipartisan support for this amendment and these programs is good news for rural America. However, the provisions still likely face a tough fight in the House and in further deliberations on Capitol Hill. We’ll continue to monitor this important debate, but, for now, we can celebrate (briefly) an important and succcessful first step to more effective rural development programs!